Telford International Centre
28th - 29th January

A bright, sunny and cold Saturday morning greeted the attendees of this years’ Herpetofauna Workers Meeting at the Telford International Centre in Shropshire. No sooner had the posters and leaflets been arranged neatly on their stalls the delegates, some with very sore heads from the hotel bar the night before, started queuing patiently at the registration desk!

There was plenty to keep the delegates busy with stalls from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation,WildCare, The British Herpetological Society, ARG UK,Pond Conservation and a poster display by Chris Cathrine from Clyde Amphibian and Reptile Group on researching the distribution of Scottish grass snakes.

Dr Tony Gent, Chief Executive Officer at Amphibian & Reptile Conservation, opened the conference which kicked off with a presentation by Paul Edgar from Natural England. In April 2010 Natural England was substantially reformed and restructured. There has recently been and will be enormous changes to every aspect of wildlife conservation in England and Natural England is focused on initiatives such as the Natural Environment White paper, the National Ecosystems Assessment Report, the England Biodiversity Strategy and the Making Space for Nature report Paul explained that initiatives like these present new opportunities to take the conservation of herps in England forward and that Amphibian and Reptile Groups are going to become increasingly important.

There has been very little research in to how human activity and environmental changes have influence over genetics in adder populations in the UK. Faye Willman from the Institute of Zoology has been studying the genetic diversity and structure of populations using microsatellite analysis. Information from genetic analysis can be used to manage population genetic diversity and genetic rescue. Faye did a really great job of explaining a very complex subject in a way we could all understand!

Matthew Ellis spoke about the North East Wales Amphibian and Reptile Network (NEWARN). Since 1996 NEWARN has been coordinating the annual surveillance and monitoring for amphibians and reptiles and supported the development and implementation of training programmes. Surveillance data has been used to inform designated site notification and subsequent monitoring. NEWARN is also a forum for distributing local and national biodiversity information to volunteers.

Pond Conservation, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, the British Trust for Ornithology, Botanical Society of the British Isles, the Freshwater Biological Association and others are working on a project funded by Natural England and DEFRA. A new volunteer based habitat surveillance network is being developed to concentrate on ponds and their associated taxa during concerns that pond diversity is declining in England and Wales. Dr Jeremy Biggs from Pond Conservation explained that in April the first of two years of trials will begin in the New Forest, North East Yorkshire and a third unconfirmed location in order to test and develop survey methods and their viability. The pond monitoring workshop run by Jeremy and Dr Tony Gent focussed on discussing ways to ensure that the volunteers used in the survey receive support and feedback.

After the morning coffee break Dr John Wilkinson from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation chaired the second session which began with Rozie Salazar from the University of Oxford and WildCRU. Rosie talked about the first year of her doctoral study on the distribution and dispersion of herpetofauna in lowland farmland. The agri-environment scheme offers management options to provide good habitat. Rosie started studying how frequently amphibians and reptiles used ditches and hedgerows focussing on common toads and grass snakes, now BAP priority species. The next two years of the project will include studying data collected from surveys in Oxfordshire in order to plan an HSI for the common toad. A new trial has started PIT tagging common toads and recapturing them. Habitat association data will be collected and the model created will be used to calculate least cost distance between pairs of common toad breeding ponds.

David O’Brien from the Highland Biological Recording Group, with his hand painted newt silk tie (very cool), gave a fantastic presentation on sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) and amphibians in the Scottish Highlands. Urban habitats have become important for the ongoing survival of migrating toads. SuDS are proving to be contributing to the favourable conservation status of amphibians in Inverness. David has been studying their role in supporting breeding amphibians and hopes that the data gained encourages future developments to take this in to account.

A hearty jacket potato with veggie chilli, rice and salad was my fuel of choice which set the rest of the afternoon up nicely. The first session of workshops began after lunch and the feedback has been brilliant. The choices were Dealing with Negative Attitudes to Reptiles, Making the Adder Count, Amphibian Recording, and Pond Monitoring for volunteers which were all full of lively discussions and the workshop leaders received some really useful information.

After a welcome cup of tea our delegates made their way back in to the Atcham Suite for the final session of the day chaired by Julian Whitehurst from Cheshire and Wirral ARG. Dr John Baker, an Independent Consultant, works with the northern clade pool frogs in Norfolk. The frogs were reintroduced from Sweden and the project has been monitoring the frogs, habitat and other amphibians on site. John has noted that, after seven years, the population doesn’t appear to be expanding although the frogs appear healthy at all stages of development.

Nigel Hand from Herefordshire Amphibian and Reptile Team gave an upbeat update on the hugely successful ‘What’s that snake?,’ a reptile based educational project which ran for two years and visited a huge number of schools in the country. Well done Nigel and HART!

Ian Tanner from Warwickshire Amphibian and Reptile Team marked the end of the formal conference and presentations for day one. Using a case study from the West Midlands, Ian’s talk focussed on the often confusing challenge of accommodating wildlife in planning and land management.

The keynote speaker - TV personality Nick Baker (Naturalist, Broadcaster and Author) arrived in time to experience the Gala Dinner and the unique and wonderful way the UK’s herpetology crowd let their hair down! I’m pleased to report that Nick had a thoroughly good time! After a very tasty three course meal washed down with a few drinks, Dr John Wilkinson stepped up to the podium for the resurrection of ‘Have I got newts for you!’ This popular quiz was first created by Jim Foster who very kindly sent a video question all the way from Penang in Malaysia! Much fun was had by all and the quiz was eventually won by a team called ‘All slow-worms are lesbians!’

Shortly afterwards it was time to start the raffle and who better to call the numbers but Nick Baker! There were some great prizes to be had including ceramic frogs, a range of publications, mugs and alcohol. The £400 raised from the raffle has been put in to the ARG UK 100% fund which provides small grants to ARG’s for practical conservation work. It was a great way to round up the evening. 

Sunday began with the second session of workshops and participants emerged looking fully revved up for the season ahead. After a break for refreshments and Danish pastries, the fourth session began with a presentation from Chris Davis. After a brief history lesson, delegates heard all about the UK sand lizard reintroduction programme and what dedication and hard work goes in to breeding and rearing the lizards and locating sites for successful reintroductions.

Amphibian and Reptile Conservations CLARE Project Officer, Sophie Hinton, went on to give a half way update on the progress of the CLARE project (Connecting London’s Amphibian & Reptile Environments). The project is working in partnership to deliver London’s Biodiversity Action Plan targets for species in the capital. Sophie has done a great job engaging the public and obtained numerous records. Reptile habitat management training was arranged for members of the London Wildlife Trust and delivered by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation’s Senior Reserves Manager, Gary Powell.

Next up was the hugely likeable Mike Phillips, Treasurer of Kent Amphibian and Reptile Group. Mike talked about the creation of a new ‘landscape scale habitat suitability index for great crested newts tool’ at KRAG to help identify areas in the county where pond creation would be most likely to benefit great crested newts. A map has been created to identify high priority sites for pond creation. By comparing known records, CORINE land cover data and types of land cover and data from km squares where GCN are present and absent (survey work has taken place to establish the types of land favoured by GCN) this tool can be used to predict the likely presence of GCN ponds where no surveys have taken place. This dataset is combined with the number of ponds in each km square and distance from existing records to identify the squares that would be most likely to benefit GCN.

Everybody was very keen to hear Freya Smith from theInstitute of Zoology and Imperial College London give an update on UK Chytrid. The infectious disease has had catastrophic implications for amphibian populations in many parts of the world. In 2008 the first national survey was carried out to collect samples from across the UK using volunteer surveyors, lots of which were present, to identify infected sites. Three years later in 2011 a follow up survey, known as ‘the Big Swab,’ was carried out. The survey data is vital to help determine if infection in the UK is changing. Although the 2011 sample results aren’t ready to disseminate Freya updated with some initial observations. To thank all of the swab volunteers who gave up their time to collect samples Freya made some special chytrid cup cakes which were delicious – thank you Freya!

The final presentation was delivered by keynote speaker Nick Baker. Excited at the thought of getting the chance to talk about herps to a room of herp enthusiasts, Nick gave a light hearted, amusing and informative insight in to his work and experiences from all over the world. We were treated to some great photographs, footage of some unique amphibians and reptiles and Nick’s favourite towel adorned with olms! 

David Orchard, Chair of ARG UK closed the conference thanking the organisers Dorothy Driver (ARC), Angela Reynolds (ARC), Dr John Wilkinson (ARC), Helen Wraight (ARC), the Sponsors and Contributors (Natural England, Countryside Council for Wales, Herpetologic Ltd, Pearce Environment Ltd, EcoLine,Surrey ARG, Suffolk ARG, ARC Ecological Services, Wildcare and ARG UK), Telford International Centre Event staff, Speakers (Paul Edgar, Faye Wilman, Matthew Ellis, Dr Jeremy Biggs, Rosie Salazar, David O’Brien, Dr John Baker, Nigel Hand, Ian Tanner, Chris Davis, Sophie Hinton, Mike Phillips and Freya Smith), Workshop Leaders (Gary Powell, Jon Cranfield, Nigel Hand, Chris Monk, Mike Phillips, Danial Winchester, Dr Jeremy Biggs and Dr Tony Gent), Session Chairs (Dr Tony Gent, David Orchard, Dr. John Wilkinson and Julian Whitehurst) Stall Holders (Amphibian & Reptile Conservation, Wildcare, The British Herpetological Society, ARG UK and Pond Conservation ), Angela Julian for organising the raffle and Jim Foster for the quiz question. Lastly but certainly not the least, many thanks to Nick Baker for helping to make the Herpetofauna Workers Meeting 2012 a lot of fun and a great success. We hope to see you next year Nick!

After a break for lunch ARG UK held their AGM. David Orchard stood down as Chair of ARG UK after two years. David is getting married in the spring and wants to concentrate on being a family man. Congratulations! Chris Monk from Derbyshire ARG is the newly appointed Chair - Congratulations Chris! On behalf of everyone at Amphibian and Reptile Conservation we wish you all the best in your new role.

Before we knew it the conference was over for another year. Everybody leaves feeling the same way, totally shattered but enthused and inspired for the season ahead. New things learned and discovered, ideas and thoughts exchanged, new friendships and contacts acquired. The weekend was a success, let’s hope that continues with a successful season of herping!

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and ARG UK would like to thank the following sponsors:



Quotes & Comments

‘This is the best quiz I have ever been to!’ – Nick Baker (Naturalist, Broadcaster & Author)

‘These kind of events take a huge amount of work that often goes unthanked so let me take this opportunity to say thanks to everybody who made it happen. It was a great event and well worth the effort!’ – Mike Phillips (Kent Amphibian & Reptile Group)

‘I simply wanted to say personally what an enjoyable weekend this was and to express my thanks to everyone who took part in its organisation’. – Chris Davis

‘Thanks for all your hard work, and well done on pulling off another successful weekend’. – Ewan Shilland (University College London/ Kent Amphibian and Reptile Group)

‘Just to let you know how much I enjoyed the conference this weekend - I had to leave early but got a lot out of it’. – Nick Mann (Habitat Aid)

‘I will hold no grudges that the team I was in came last in the quiz - the girls say thanks for the sour snakes- their favourite sweety!’ – Dr Liz Howe (Countryside Council for Wales)

‘A really good event ‘ – Richard Anstis (Surrey Amphibian & Reptile Group)

I really enjoyed it and I feel it goes down in history as one of the best HWM because of the broad diversity of subjects and workshops, brilliant social evenings and Nick Baker. The Natural England presentation by Paul Edgar (emphasis on the adder) put me on a high for the whole conference. 'Sterling Effort' by all involved. – Nigel Hand (Herefordshire Amphibian & Reptile Team)