Members of Harrow and Hillingdon Geological Society have just returned from an important field trip to France to celebrate its 35th anniversary.

Reporter IAN PROCTOR digs into the background of this interest group,and learns how its work has particular relevance in our environmentally-conscious world.

A CURATORf rom the Natural History Museum who helped form the Harrow and Hillingdon Geological Society was among those to celebrate the organisation's milestone anniversary recently.

Bob Symes, a keeper of mineralogy at the museum in 1973, was one of founder members of the group that promotes interest in the earth sciences: fossils, minerals, dinosaurs, as well as bigger environmental issues.

Dr Symes, 76, who received an OBE for services to the museum and the science of mineralogy in 1996, said: "I was an extramurial lecturer for London University and was asked to do two evening classes in Harrow and Uxbridge and I did that for about 10 years.

"Several members decided that we should form a society, and that was 35 years ago this year. It was originally called the Harrow and Ruislip Geological Society but we eventually changed its name.

"It's been based for most of its time in Eastcote and has been a very successful society. It's about educating the public on the earth and things like, nowadays, the global warming and sea level rises and its implications."

Underpinning the society is its popular monthly lecture: past talks have taken in topics such as paleontology (the study of pre-historic life through fossils), black holes, diamonds and volcanism on Venus.

Dr Symes, who remained president of the society after relocating from Eastcote to Sidmouth, Devon, where he curates the local museum, said: "Originally we would talk about the structure of the earth, how it came about and what it has formed, but it's very much more sophisticated now."

Publicity and exhibtions officer Joan Waters said: "Over the years the society has thrived in the geological community. With Bob's initial connections at the Natural History Museum and the networking of successive secretaries, we have been fortunate to attract good speakers from many different disciplines."

Field trips to explore a whole range of landscapes, both British and foreign, are still a large part of the society's activities.

Dr Symes said: "We have spent a great deal of time underground. We did everything we could to study the rocks.

"One of our happiest journeys was to Italy in 2003. We had fantastic lecturers from southern and central Italy. It was a very good trip.

"We got to look at geothermal reservoirs and climb Mount Vesuvius."

Every five years the society organises a foreign trip and last month Dr Symes, along with two other founding members and 25 others, visited the Massif Central in France to explore meteor crash sites and a volcanic region.

Mrs Waters said: "Unfortunately, the weather was not good. It rained most days but we made the best of it and it did not dampen our enthusiasm for the magnificent geology which we saw."

Three other strands of the society's work are looking after a Site of Special Scientific Interest at Harefield, hosting exhibtions at libraries in Harrow and Hillingdon, and giving talks to schools with the aid of individual members' collections of articles.

Dr Symes said he had seen several children grow up to take careers in geology.

He said: "We've had half a dozen over 35 years and several of them have gone on to become professors. In that respect, we've been quite successful.

"We think we have done a reasonably good job in trying to teach the people of Harrow and Hillingdon about geology."

* Harrow and Hillingdon Geological Society meets at the Cavendish Pavilion, Field End Road, Eastcote, on the second Wednesday of each month (except August) at 8pm. To join, contact Jean Sippy on 020 8422 1859 or visit www.hhgs.org.uk