Written by Owain Masters, Snakes in the Heather Public Engagement and Education Officer

We were delighted to welcome more than 200 delegates to the 2020 Herpetofauna Workers' Meeting, a yearly highlight for those interested in all things herpetological in the UK. It was held in Southport for the first time and hosted in part by the ARC’s Gems in the Dunes project, part of the national Back from the Brink programme, in addition to its usual organisers Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and ARG UK. Southport is situated on the Sefton Coast which is the largest contiguous dune system in the UK, home to several of our native species including sand lizard and natterjack toads.

This year we were pleased to be sponsored by… TEP, Arcadis, Animex, NatureSpace, The Newt Partnership, NHBS, Brushdale, Pelagic, Southport Brewery and Ainsdale Fine Chocolate. The Back from the Brink programme also contributed funding towards this year’s conference, with generous support from a range of funders including the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The weekend started on Friday 14th February with a fieldtrip hosted by the Gems in the Dunes team, with help from North Merseyside ARG. The project has made enormous headway in dune habitat management for amphibians and reptiles with volunteer support from the local community. The sense of community stretched beyond the Gems in the Dunes project and into the conference itself which was full of lively debate, networking and celebration of the work of the UK’s current and future herpetologists, paid and voluntary.

Opening remarks were provided by Tony Gent, ARC CEO, who explained the importance of the area’s heritage, both cultural and natural. The Herp Workers Meeting runs across two days which were divided up into conference sessions and workshops. The presentations were fascinating, covering topics such as regional and national monitoring, threats to herp species and what to do if you find diseased animals, opportunities for conservation, and involving people in wildlife management. Likewise, the workshops were very relevant, well attended and produced worthwhile results.

The conference on Saturday concluded with the ARG UK AGM and then the ever popular Gala Dinner, raffle and quiz. Jim and John who hosted the quiz, outdid themselves. I am reliably informed by repeat delegates that the quiz was amongst the best it’s ever been; clever, funny, not too long but with enough time for a chance to get to know other delegates, and enjoy a catch up for those who had met before. Sunday concluded with closing remarks from Chris Monk, Chair of ARG UK, followed by farewells, and quick departures as we tried to beat storm Dennis on our routes home.

In addition to the fascinating presentations several organisations hosted displays and shops, and more still put up posters providing a further opportunity to showcase conservation efforts and natural history in the UK. At the ARC shop we had organised the sale of locally produced Natterjack Ale and chocolate toads which will be hard to match next year!

A big thank you to all our sponsors and supporters and to those who chaired, presented and participated in the conference – feedback from the event so far has been excellent and we hope to continue the success next year!

If you are interested in getting involved in the 2021 conference, or have suggestions for presentation topics, please get in touch. The 2020 conference programme and presentation abstracts are available to download. This year’s speaker presentations will be available on our website very soon.