Wednesday, 19 November 2014

60 SECOND INTERVIEW: Steve Davies


STEVE Davies is the owner of Dinosaurland in Lyme Regis. He  went to school in Bristol and a teacher brought him to Lyme Regis on a geology field trip. He said: “On the beaches under Black Ven I found a large golden ammonite and this was a life changing moment. I couldn’t believe that something of such beauty could be found so easily. I knew in that instant that I would work with fossils. I was lucky enough to realise my dream and became a palaeontologist. I worked all around the world but kept coming back to Lyme whenever I had the chance. There is something really special about the beaches and fossils around Lyme. I finally got to come to live here in 1990.”

ARE you married and do you have children?
I have been married to the long suffering Jenny for 31 years.  As part of the wooing process, I brought her to Lyme Regis one winter. We stayed at the Bay Hotel looking out over the sea. I think it helped convince her that I was worth the trouble. We have three children - Chris is a doctor in Birmingham, Ben is a Project Manager in Nottingham and Mairi administers a language school in Seville.

HOW did you first become interested in geology/palaeontology? ?
I studied Geology at Oxford University and then Micropalaeontology at University College, London. I joined BP as a palaeontologist and travelled the world using fossils to help explore for oil and gas. Those were heady days. I got to work on the early discoveries in the North Sea and Arctic Alaska. I was in the first group of foreign experts sent to China in the days when the country was more like North Korea is today. It was all a big adventure. Eventually I became chief palaeontologist for BP looking after all their fossil interests. But one day I decided I had had enough of industry and resigned. I naturally headed back towards Lyme to consider a new direction.

WHEN did you take on Dinosaurland?
Dinosaurland Fossil Museum is housed in the former Congregational Church on Coombe Street. This is where Mary Anning was baptised and where she worshipped for most of her life. You couldn’t write a better script about where to house a fossil museum. I was able to buy the building in 1995. The initial collection consisted of a humble 113 fossils.

WHAT sets the museum apart from other attractions/what's unique about the museum?
Dinosaurland Fossil Museum is a traditional museum with more than 10,000 specimens on permanent display now. This abundance of specimens certainly sets the museum apart. There are more fossils on display here than in all the other museums in south west England put together. It is important that my visitors can see a wide range of material. They can read my discussions of what is on display. But ultimately they can muse over it themselves and come to their own conclusions.

DO you have any particularly special items on display?
All the fossils on display are particularly special to me. They are all individuals with their own specific characteristics. I find the humblest belemnite just as interesting as the grandest Ichthyosaur. Different visitors pick their own special specimens. I suppose the greatest response comes for a collection of 460 million year old trilobites from Russia with an extraordinary display of spines. But there is the male and female Jeholosaur dinosaurs from the feathered dinosaur quarry of China. Or the Diving Ichthyosaur where a dying creature managed to bury itself in the mud nose first with the rest of the body crumpled up on top. My younger visitors tell me that the 73kg lump of dinosaur dung is the best.

CAN you tell us about the latest additions to your collection?
I was pleased to get a piece of the Chelyabinsk meteorite. This is the meteorite that struck Russia recently, injuring thousands of people but being caught for the first time on film.
I am just finalising a display about Fossil Lake in Wyoming. This is where the millions of fossil fish on sale around the world come from. The display aims to show why the lake was so prolific and illustrate the less popular fossils from the lake, like the Palm Flower I am holding in the photograph.

ARE there any plans to develop the museum and its collections in the future?
In the short term, I am putting the finishing touches to a wonderful new Ichthyosaur that has come from Germany. The Ichthyosaurs in the museum come from various locations around the Jurassic Sea. They are all telling a slightly different story about what life was like in that sea. Longer term I expect to spend as much time as possible out on the beaches this winter collecting the new exhibits. The wonderful thing is that I have no idea what is waiting out there to be discovered.

WHAT are your personal interests/hobbies?
My all consuming interests are the fossils. I find that the more I work with them, the more interesting they become. 

WHAT do you like about the local area?
If you like fossils like me, then Lyme Regis must be close to paradise on Earth. But I love the narrow alleyways and mysterious hidden gardens of the Old Town around the museum. And I love the diversity of the countryside around Lyme. There is such a contrast between say the Undercliffs and Golden Cap yet all within relatively easy walking distance.

WHAT do you think it's missing?
The ‘official’ website for the town tells you that there is one museum in Lyme Regis but it is not my museum. The tourist information centre refuses to display my advertising leaflet. I do not want any help for my museum but it would be nice to see some sort of acknowledgement that I actually exist.

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