Symington Celebrates the International Day for Biological Diversity

Photographer, Joel Sartore. All photos: Adriano Ferreira Borges

Each year on the 22nd of May, the United Nations marks the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. This was the day that in 1992 the UN General Assembly adopted the Agreed Text of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Over the last few decades, the Symington family has been one of the most active proponents of nature conservation in the Douro Valley, having implemented across its vineyards sustainable viticulture management, either through organic viticulture or Integrated Crop Management. The family take great encouragement from the fact that over the years — in great part as a result of their ambitious programme — there has been a noticeable increase in the diversity of flora and fauna in their properties. One of the most visible examples of this reality is the great variety of birdlife to be seen in many of the family’s Quintas in the Douro.

The Black Wheatear
The Black Wheatear, ‘The Port Wine Bird’ which has found a safe haven at Quinta dos Malvedos

Recently, the family, through its cooperation with the University of Porto’s Research Centre for Biodiversity and Genetic Resources (CIBIO), hosted Joel Sartore, the award-winning National Geographic wildlife photographer. His ‘Photo Ark’ project has taken him to over 40 countries since 2005 in a quest to catalogue photographically 12,000 animal species under threat or close to extinction. As the title of his book suggests, the Photo Ark is: “One Man’s Quest to Document the World’s Animals.” The CIBIO cooperates closely with Joel and during his recent passage through Portugal they approached the family with a request to provide logistical support for Joel’s work schedule in Portugal. As a result, for two days in April 2018, Joel Sartore and the Porto University researchers and biologists were based at Quinta dos Malvedos in the heart of the Upper Douro to photograph endangered species.

The choice of this vineyard, specifically, was not by chance. The University researchers have identified Quinta dos Malvedos and the family’s neighbouring Quinta do Tua as one of the last havens in Portugal (if not the last) of the Black Wheatear, the so called “Port Wine Bird”, known locally as the chasco-preto (Oenanthe leucura). Following a great deal of effort searching for this shy, elusive bird, the university researchers managed to temporarily capture a specimen which Joel duly captured with his camera. They found the bird in the Quinta’s ancient stone terraced vineyards, which according to the Malvedos farm manager is the bird’s preferred habitat on the property.

Malvedos
The Malvedos stone terraced vineyards, the preferred habitat of the ‘Port Wine Bird’ on the property

Another very rare species, a Desman (small semiaquatic nocturnal mammal) was captured in a local stream and also photographed by Joel. He was very excited about this particular extremely rare animal as it marked the 8,000th species ‘captured’ by the Photo Ark. Joel thinks it may well be a future National Geographic Magazine cover and/or feature. Click here to view Joel’s interview, given to Portuguese television at Malvedos.

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Centenary of The Battle of the Lys: Remembering Maurice Symington

2nd Lieutenant Maurice Symington’s “mentioned in despatches” commendation, signed by Winston Churchill.

Earlier this week, the President and the Prime Minister of Portugal joined the French President in Paris and then in Richebourg, in French Flanders, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Lys where the Portuguese Expeditionary Force was attacked by German forces — five times their number. The presidents of both nations laid wreaths during a ceremony at the Portuguese National Cemetery, Richebourg, in memory of the thousands of Portuguese soldiers who lost their lives.

In 1918, Maurice Symington was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery, British Army, which he had joined on leaving school in August 1914. Being fluent in Portuguese, he was part of the British Mission to the 55,000 strong ‘Corpo Expedicionário Português’, the Portuguese Expeditionary Force that had joined the Allies in France in 1917.

On 9th of April 1918, 2nd Lieutenant Symington was with the Portuguese Artillery in France just behind the trenches between Armentieres and Festubert when the German Army launched one of the most powerful attacks of the war. Eight German Divisions amounting to some 100,000 men attacked 20,000 Portuguese. After heroic resistance, the Portuguese were overrun and the neighbouring 119th Brigade of the British 40th Division was also forced back. Total casualties on the Allied side during the battle of La Lys (7th-29th April 2018) were truly horrendous at circa 120,000 men.

This is an extract from the diary of 23-year-old 2nd Lieutenant Maurice Symington for Tuesday 9th April 1918, while fighting with the Corpo Expedicionário Português in France:

‘Woke at 4 am by salvo round house. Tremendous bombardment everywhere. SOS from everywhere. All lines cut. Shells falling about 10 a minute. This continued till 9, when the Boche attacked and after that till 2.15pm when the barrage finally lifted. Machine guns active all around us and behind in two points. Decided to retire at 2.45pm. Only just escaped in time. Went to Lestrem, but found nobody there. Finally got to Calonne sur-la-Lys. My clothes consisted of pyjamas, gum boots, breeches and my British Warm [Greatcoat warn by British Army Officers]. Also pistol & box of cigarettes. ‘If’, my dog, stuck to me and got through. Don’t know how we weren’t all killed. Worst thing I have ever been through in my life.’

Maurice Symington was lucky to be one of the survivors, and eventually returned to Portugal after the war ended in November 1918, together with his faithful dog ‘If’. He was subsequently awarded the Portuguese Ordem Militar de Avis and was Mentioned in Despatches by the British Army for ‘Gallant and distinguished service in the field’ in a certificate signed by Winston Churchill, then Secretary of War in the British Government.

Maurice joined his father as a Port producer in Portugal in late 1918, where his descendants today continue the long family tradition. He eventually died in April 1974, in the same room that he had been born in at N˚1283 Avenida de Boavista, Porto, Portugal. His father, Andrew James Symington, was a Port producer who had come to Portugal from Scotland aged 18 in 1882. His mother was Beatriz Leitão de Carvalhosa Atkinson from an Anglo-Portuguese family who had been Port producers since the 17th century.

2nd Lieutenant Maurice Symington (left) with two Portuguese Army Officers
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Symington Family Estates Student Scholarships – UTAD

UTAD

In December 2017, Symington Family Estates and the University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro (UTAD) in Vila Real signed an agreement establishing the Symington Scholarships, which will support aspiring students wishing to pursue studies at the university, namely in the Oenology and Agricultural Engineering degree courses. Over the last 30 years, the university, located in the Douro’s regional capital, has trained new generations of winemakers who have made and continue to make a vital contribution to the growing reputation of Douro wines, both dry and fortified.

Starting with the 2018/2019 academic year, two scholarships will be granted annually to cover the full tuition fees of two undergraduate students for the duration of their three-year courses. The selection process will be conducted by UTAD and the criteria will be as follows:

  • Candidates must be natives of or reside within the Douro Demarcated Region.
  • One student whose family lack the necessary financial resources to fund university education.
  • One student with proven academic excellence wishing to pursue his/her studies at university level.

Each year, two students will be supported and therefore within three years there will be six students benefiting from these scholarships. This support scheme will run for at least three years and will be automatically extended for similar time periods.

Symington Family Estates counts amongst its staff numerous holders of degrees in both Oenology and Agricultural Engineering from UTAD, many of whom occupy senior positions in the company in areas as varied as winemaking, viticulture, research and development, environmental certification/quality assurance, sales and wine tourism.

Symington Family Estates has a very significant presence in the Douro region where it owns and farms 1,024 hectares of vineyards spread across 26 different properties which are at the heart of the award-winning wines the company produces. Two-fifths of the company’s 500 employees live and work in the Douro and the company is thus a major contributor to the local economy, both in terms of providing a livelihood for many families and through the annual purchase of grapes from several thousand growers.

The Symington family values its social, environmental and cultural commitment to the region and over the last decade significant support has been granted to wildlife conservation through the annual support grant given to the Wildlife Rescue Centre, which operates within UTAD’s Veterinary Hospital. The centre is dedicated to nursing back to health hundreds of injured birds of prey (as well as other animals) and is recognized as one of the finest of its kind in the Iberian Peninsula. Furthermore, the well-being of local communities is also of importance to the family through the annual donation of an ambulance to local fire brigades. To date, ten ambulances have been donated to the local fire services who are often the first responders in emergency situations to isolated rural populations.

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Ambulance Donated to Sabrosa Fire Service

Sabrosa Fire Service

On Saturday, November 25th Symington Family Estates presented, in the name of all its employees, a new ambulance to the Sabrosa Volunteer Fire Brigade in recognition of the vital services they offer to the local community in this rural area of the Upper Douro Valley. Since 2007, this is the 10th ambulance donated by the Symington family to fire services in the Douro region.

Symington Family Estates own 1,024 hectares of vineyards in the Douro and of its near 500 employees, 40% live and work in the region. Besides providing a livelihood for many families, Symington is a major contributor to the local economy, annually purchasing grapes from several thousand growers, as well as other goods and services essential to the smooth running of its operations in the Douro.
Present at the handover ceremony in representation of the company were Paul Symington, several other company directors as well as the head of Symington Viticulture, Pedro Leal da Costa and Sr. Américo, the farm manager of Quinta da Cavadinha, which is just a few kilometres from Sabrosa.
This year’s terrible wildfires throughout Portugal, which tragically claimed over 100 lives have again demonstrated the selfless dedication and courage of the nation’s firefighters who besides combatting forest fires, provide local communities with vital emergency medical coverage.

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Portuguese Prime Minister Visits Quinta do Bomfim

Portuguese PM António Costa
The Portuguese Prime Minister, António Costa (left), in Quinta do Bomfim.

The Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa spent part of his summer holidays in the beautiful Douro Valley, and during his stay visited the Symington family’s Quinta do Bomfim together with his wife and friends.

The PM was shown the vineyard, winery and cellars by Paul and Charles Symington, after which they gave him a tasting of some of the family’s renowned Ports and Douro wines.

The PM then enjoyed one of Quinta do Bomfim’s picnics while overlooking magnificent views across the Douro Valley from the terrace of Echo House, located in the middle of the estate’s vineyards.

 

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Farewell to Tim Stanley-Clarke

Tim Stanley-Clarke
Tim Stanley-Clarke

It is with great sorrow that we learned that our friend and colleague Tim Stanley-Clarke passed away suddenly last week.

Tim joined the Symington Family from London wine merchant Christopher and Co., who at the time were the agents for Dow’s Port in the UK, in 1984. His good disposition, easygoing nature and obvious love for Port, and indeed all wines, made him not only the perfect addition to the company, but also immensely good company himself.

As a central figure in the UK Port trade, his humour and wit will be sorely missed by all who crossed paths with him.

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Portraits of the Douro
– João Tomás –

João Tomãs
João Tomás
During the release of a honey buzzard back to the wild at Quinta dos Malvedos, we spoke to Dr. João Tomás, of the Wild Birds Recovery Unit of the University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro, about his life in the Douro and his passion for birds.
For more information on Wild Birds Recovery Unit visit their Facebook page, here (in Portuguese).

Adriano Ferreira Borges: Good morning. What’s your name, and what do you do for a living?
João Tomás: Hello. My name is João Tomás and I’m a vet.

AFB: And where do you live?
JT: At the moment in Vila Real, but originally, I’m from Batalha.

AFB: So, you’re not from the Douro then. Do you like it here?
JT: Yes, of course! I came here to study in Vila Real, specifically, veterinary medicine in the University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro in 2008. When I finished my studies, I had the luck to be able to stay on in the Wild Animal Recovery Unit (Centro de Recuperação de Animais Selvagens) of the University Veterinary Hospital. However, I was born in the centre of Portugal, in Batalha, but now I think I am more than part Trásmontano (a person from Trás-os-Montes)… I like it in Vila Real, I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but for now I like it here.

AFB: You said you worked in the Wild Animal Recovery Unit. Do you only work with birds, or do you also treat other animals?
JT: We work with wild animals in general, including, wild birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Normally the animals that find their way to us are found injured on the street, and are brought to us by members of the public. We then try and figure out what’s wrong, and return them to their home in nature.

AFB: But you have a special relationship with birds, right?
JT: Yes, since I was young I’ve been fascinated with them, something I inherited from my father who also loved to study them when he was young. In 2010, I volunteered in a recovery unit, and worked with a group of people passionate about birds, which made my interest grow even more. So now, a day doesn’t pass that I don’t look at a bird, and I don’t walk in the field with my binoculars to see what I can see. At this time, it is a passion and a hobby, and I hope in the future I can work in the area.

AFB: Did you ever work with wine?
JT: To be honest, I never had much contact with it! I have a friend from secondary school whose family produce some wine, but just for their own consumption. And now that I think of it, I helped my uncle during the harvest when I was very young.

AFB: So, you have been living in the Douro nine years now, what changes have you noticed in this time?
JT: Well, everything I like about it has stayed the same! The things that I can put my finger on are the more negative things, like the increase in forest fires in the summer, and this year even in the spring.

AFB: How do you imagine the Douro in ten years’ time?
JT: In the last 10 or 15 years, the Douro has already changed for the better due to increased tourism and investment, something the region badly needed due to the desertification of the region in the 80’s and 90’s. I think that developments in the vineyards, and in winemaking are very positive for the local populations as it has created jobs and the opportunity for more companies to invest in the region. Tourism has also allowed new people to get to know this beautiful place.

AFB: So, you think tourism is a positive thing?
JT: On one hand it is, due to what I said earlier. On the other, we must be careful, as we need to remember to preserve all living things, which need their own space. We need to protect what is already here.

AFB: Well, although you live in a beautiful place, you must go on holidays sometimes. Where do you go?
JT: Good question! Basically, my holidays revolve around observing birds! I try and go to areas of the country that I know are inhabited by species of birds I haven’t seen before, and try to observe them.

AFB: That’s dedication! What sort of food do you like?
JT: I like traditional Portuguese cooking, and principally my mother’s!
AFB: Any favourite?
JT: I love cozido á Portuguesa and posta Maronesa (steak maronesa)

AFB: Do you not mean to say Mirandesa (a breed of cow)?
JT: No, no. The breed is Maronesa, from the Marão mountains, although now you find more of them in the Alvão.

AFB: I won’t argue with you! Thanks for talking to me.
JT: You’re welcome!

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Honey Buzzard Returned to the Wild at Quinta dos Malvedos

Peter Symington releasing the bird over Quinta dos Malvedos

A European honey buzzard — Pernis apivorus — nursed back to health by the UTAD (Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro) Wildlife Rescue Centre was returned to the wild at Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos on May 18th. Peter Symington, the SFE’s retired winemaker, who has been staying at the quinta with family and friends, released the female honey buzzard from one of the property’s highest vineyards at 350 metres (1,148 feet).

The Malvedos honey buzzard was taken to the University’s Veterinary Hospital in August 2016 after it had been found by members of the public, downed and injured near Miranda do Douro, a town in the north-eastern extremity of Portugal where the Douro marks the international border with Spain. The bird had been illegally shot, sustaining two fractures in one of its wings. It was operated on successfully at the veterinary hospital — which works closely with the wildlife rescue centre — and from October it began its recovery programme which consisted of several months of flying exercises in the rescue centre’s dedicated circular flight tunnel, the only one of its kind in the Iberian Peninsula. It’s unique in that it allows large birds of prey to fly continuously, thus regaining muscular strength and recovering flying proficiency in preparation for a return to nature.

Although its steady recovery was completed during the middle of winter, the rescue centre could not release the bird as it belongs to a migratory species, which flies south to sub-Saharan Africa at the end of the European Autumn in search of better feeding grounds, returning to Europe only in the spring for the mating season. As its name suggests, the honey buzzard feeds on bees and wasps and their larvae, raiding their nests. Its thick plumage, its claws covered with thick protective scales and narrow slit nostrils, protect it from attack by its preferred prey.

Dr. João Tomás, the veterinarian who accompanied the honey buzzard for release at Malvedos explained to those present that during the second week of May, approximately 8,000 honey buzzards were tracked over the Strait of Gibraltar, flying north on their return to Europe where they will mate, usually with the same partner, build nests and raise their chicks. He said that sightings of honey buzzards had already been reported in the Douro Superior and in the Trás-os-Montes and Beira Alta districts of Portugal. This was the signal that the timing was right to release ‘their’ bird.

The Symington family has supported the University’s Wildlife Rescue Centre (Centro de Recuperação de Animais Selvagens — CRAS, for short) since 2011 and several species of birds of prey have been freed at different family vineyards in the Douro over recent years. Malvedos is home to a remarkable variety of bird species, which include golden orioles, bee-eaters, turtle doves, Iberian magpies and larger birds such as black kites, which frequently nest in the wooded areas of the quinta. Just moments after the release of the honey buzzard, João Tomás identified a Bonelli’s eagle gliding effortlessly on the thermals above the vineyards.

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Porto and the Early Days of Motoring

Andrew James Symington's (at the wheel) Daimler 1912
Andrew James Symington’s (at the wheel) Daimler 1912. Photograph: Unknown
Andrew James Symington was the first of the Symington family to work in the Port trade, and came to Porto in 1892. He is the great-grandfather of the current generation of the Symington Family running the company. In the below excerpt from his book, “A Life in the Port Trade”, James Symington briefly describes a Porto that once was, and his grandfather’s penchant for motoring.

“AJS (Andrew James Symington) prospered in the Port business and acquired a fine house in the Avenida da Boavista. This was a major new artery running from the city, through what up to that time had been farmland, down to the sea. His son, Maurice was born in this house in 1895 and was to die there in 1974, in the same room in which he had been born. The house had a fine garden and AJS built a lovely and very English drawing room which gave onto it. He also had a special ceiling constructed in the dining room with a ventilator so that the cigar smoke could escape.

My grandfather was an early enthusiast of motoring and acquired a 1912 Daimler in which he ventured on occasion to the Douro over the appalling roads of the time. More usually however the train was the comfortable and practical way to visit the Douro, some three and a half hours’ journey from Porto. Although AJS was a keen motorist his skill at the wheel never matched his enthusiasm and he regularly battered his cars. On one occasion when he had just acquired a new car – a 1922 Cadillac – he decided he did not much like its colour and resolved to have it repainted. His sons, knowing full well that it would require a repaint very soon in their father’s hands, persuaded him that the colour was very pleasant and so it remained unaltered. Sure enough a few weeks later whilst driving out of his front gate, he scraped the whole side of the car and it had to be repaired and was then painted in his chosen colour.”

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A Good Day Out

 

SFE sales & marketing team and the children of the “Associação Protetora da Criança – Valadares”

As part of the anual Symington Family Estates’ sales and marketing meeting, the SFE team assembled eight bicycles that were donated to the Associação Protetora da Criança – Valadares (Association for the Protection of Children – Valadares).

The association, founded in Valadares (a parish of Vila Nova de Gaia) in 1953, aims to support disadvantaged children and young people on various levels, providing them with a stable environment within which to grow, both intellectually and emotionally.

Symington Family Estates is proud to support such a fine institution.

 

 

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