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ARC Trustee, Howard Inns sums up this years Herpetofauna Workers Meeting held 4 & 5 February in Llandudno, north Wales

The beautiful Victorian seaside town of Llandudno was the venue for the 2023 Herpetofauna Workers Meeting (HWM), the first face to face version of the event since we last met in 2020 in that other Victorian seaside town of Southport.

Despite the fact that this roughly annual event is several decades old, it was inspiring to be with such a mix of folk from ARC colleagues, the Amphibian and Reptile Groups, other wildlife NGOs, landowners, consultants and those engaged in research. As always, the weekend was a mix of some pretty serious and detailed presentations, a good deal of socialising with a fantastic dose of entertainment and craziness on the Saturday night.

To keep things appropriate for the Welsh location Tony Gent ARC CEO opened the meeting with a video address from ARC Patron Iolo Williams who recognised the work being done both on his patch and throughout the rest of the British Isles and also clearly showed his passion for Adders. Following that we were all straight into two days of presentations and workshops. Rather than rerun the agenda for you (download the full programme) there were several themes that emerged with many presentations spanning more than one them themes. I’m summarising the themes as climate change, data, engagement and species conservation.

Climate Change

Becky Turner’s presentation was on the climate trap that emerging Adders may fall into. Her study considered whether ever earlier springtime emergence of Adders increases the risk of exposure to frosts, an illustration of climate change causing a decoupling between climate and the behaviours that maximise a species ability to use the environment they live in. Becky’s conclusion clearly pointed to the fact that adders do face a climate trap and the inland Cornish populations she looked at more so than the coastal populations. Speaking to Becky she feels there’s room for more research into the real cues for emergence and more fine tuning by looking at microclimatic conditions.

Also under this theme, Kate Pitt explained the correlation she found between fewer Viviparous Lizard sighting (based on SARG data of almost 4,000 records) in years with more extreme rainfall events and Fairlie Kirkpatrick-Baird described the work they are doing by modelling the likelihood of drought events in Scotland over the next 20 years and the impact that might have on amphibians. Their modelling indicated that drought events could increase from the historic average over the last 40 years of 1 event each 20 years to around 1 in every 3, possibly higher and happening in the autumn which could be a problem for Palmate Newts as their tadpoles tend to overwinter in Scotland. They also compared 40 pond surveys from 2014 with surveys of the same ponds in 2022 and taking all factors into account this meant that of only 21 of those 40 ponds may now be suitable for supporting populations of newts. Thankfully interventions such as pond deepening can help.

Other presentations also referred to climate change such as Sliviu Petrovan’s observations on Common Frogs where he found that they would be active whenever earthworms were active which occurs at approximately 5%.

Let’s also drop Jim Foster’s presentation about emerging policy into this category as changes in the legislative framework for the species we are concerned about can impact them as much as meteorological climate change. Jim was worried that this topic would be too dry but actually thanks to Jim’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject and his communications skills it was a highly informative presentation where he described the ‘climate’ under the headings of Policy – mainly the post Brexit legislative environment which has some cause for concern, Site Safeguards, Land Management – mostly related to the Environmental Land Management plans and finally Species Recovery including the King Canute style claim of halting the decline in species abundance by 2030 and increasing it after that by 10% in the following 12 years. We live in hope!

Final thoughts on this theme are best summed up by Silviu’s words that our long held ecological assumptions about hibernation can be wrong and there is scope for plenty more observations to help understand the process.


Next up is the theme of engagement and there was some amazing food for thought from many of the presentations and workshops. Owain Masters and Janet Ullman’s hugely enjoyable and highly interactive workshop tackled this head by considering how to engage school age children (see including Janet getting a reluctant audience on its feet to act as tadpoles trying to feed and avoid jaws of the evil dragonfly nymph - a role played superbly in my workshop but Rob Gandola. The other stunning presentation on this theme was Tariq Stark’s jaw-droppingly simple initiative that has been going on in the Netherlands for some 15 years to get volunteers (working with some 80 volunteer groups) to build, manage and record usage of breeding sites for Grass Snakes with the most amazing success to the extent they have been able to steer snake populations into new areas. It was also nice to hear Tariq refer to the Grass Snake as the greatest snake on earth, personally I couldn’t agree more!

Angela Julian did a great job of describing what many of us are involved in with regard to organising local volunteers and managing local communities, in this case Adders in Rockingham Forest in Northamptonshire. She perfectly described the good habitat management work of the volunteers and positive public engagement including a televised visit by Steve Backshall. Angela also described some of challenges especially some of the Adder vs humans response of the public and some of the measures necessary to manage this and sadly the none too positive consequences caused by flooding on site killing Adders which was made worse by walls erected to ‘protect’ humans and dogs.

Almost all the presentations had some reference to the climate change theme including Silviu’s discussion about the role citizen science can play beyond simply presence/abundance monitoring by describing just how much important new understandings such as populations size and survival rates have been revealed by his study of Common Frogs simply by capturing mobile phone photos of their dorsal patterns over a prolonged period of monitoring including how the dark patches of those patterns change over time.


The theme of data is intricately linked with ‘engagement’. Personally, I feel this is the biggest challenge the conservation industry faces. Data is our lifeblood, we can’t do conservation without it but frankly at the moment it’s a mess, with insane numbers of recording systems and sharing and maintenance of data integrity still in its infancy. Hopefully out of a somewhat chaotic situation at present, this theme will evolve and Becky Turner’s workshop did a great job of illustrating the chaos (and that’s was just focused on reptiles and amphibians) taking a really constructive approach by asking for audience views about how we can accelerate this evolution. It’s worth taking a look at Becky’s work at as this issue is one we should all be concerned about and all take the time to understand.

Karen Haysom and Rob Ward’s workshop also tackled this thorny issue head on with an excellent detailed description and demonstration of ARC’s recording system covering several survey schemes including the National Amphibian Survey and National Reptile Survey and more specific schemes such as the Smooth Snake focused Snakes in the Heather initiative. The resources Karen and Rob described are available at 

Again, many presentations incorporated data but one in particular tackled it head on which was Roy Tapping’s description of the work being undertaking by Cofnod which collates, stores and makes available for use wildlife recording data in North Wales and holds some 6m records across a range of taxa. Whilst Roy’s presentation was well structured and informative it did illustrate just how confusing the local recording environment is. The second half of his presentation presented an insight into Great Crested Newt recording in North Wales confirming just how important the area is for this iconic species.

Species Conservation

The final and perhaps more traditional theme (and therefore largest) of species conservation included some great presentations that went down well with the audience including Steve Allain’s discussion about his intensive work into establishing a monitoring protocol for the Grass Snakes by understanding as much as he can about a population at a fixed study site in Norfolk where he has recorded an outstanding 656 snakes (identified by belly pattern) over three summers and accumulated an amazing amount of additional information. One important point Steve made well was the use of stringent biosecurity measures, including glove changes for each handling to mitigate the risk of snake fungal disease.

Katharina Seilern-Moy gave an insight into monitoring the health of garden populations of amphibians and reptiles. After being totally haunted as a very young herpetologist with an image of a common toad infected with toad fly, I still struggle with some of the images but with possible links to climate change all of us need to stay vigilant so worth keeping up to date using the resources at ​

Other presentations following a species theme were Ali North’s ongoing study of the ecological impact of the Alpine Newt, now a very widespread non-native. Ali looked at how favourable our climate is, what the perception of this species is and what impact Alpine Newts are having on native newt species. She concluded that the Alpine Newt is quite happy here and largely we are reasonably happy to have it (although some 45% or Ali’s survey respondents were up for removal especially where they were having a negative impact) and her fascinating work continues on the impact on other newt species.

The workshop that was species related was Lynsey Harper’s on eDNA analysis and the role it can play for our species which gave some food for though for the many delegates that attended tis session. More can be found on this topic at

Also on a broadly species theme, the first presentation of the conference from Liz Halliwell focused on Natur am Byth, Natural Resources Wales initiative which considers the country’s rarest species and habitats. It was a great way to kick off the conference and put into context the 5 integrated (site based) projects and 6 single species projects covered by Natur am Byth. Integral to these are our reptiles and amphibians, particularly the Adder and the Sand Lizard and it was great to see how they fit into the broader picture of the four strands of the initiative and it is worth looking at NRW’s Natur am Byth web site to learn more.

Mandy Cartwight and Liam Blazey did a great job of presenting the good old-fashioned hard graft of species conservation being carried out for the Natterjack Toad and the Sand Lizard along the north coast of North Wales, Mandy describing good progress with Natterjacks at her re-introduction sites followed by Liam describing the return of the Sand Lizard at several re-introduction sites. Whilst the habitat management for these species does not come without its challenges my feeling was one of cautious optimism for these enigmatic species.

Closely related was some interesting research conducted by Ben Owens of Bangor University amd NWWARG looking at the possible origin of unauthorised releases of Sand Lizards in several dunes systems around the coast of Wales. Ben used a novel genomic approach to answer the question where did these lizards come from and the conclusion was that they came from the Sefton Coast.

And last but by no means least, the keynote presentation for the whole conference from an outstanding communicator, Nigel Hand, who held the whole audience spellbound with his description of his ongoing work on radio-tracking Adders. It is stunning to see how much we are still learning about this species, the Vanishing Viper. Nigel’s work spans several sites including coastal heath in Pembrokeshire, urban heathland in Staffordshire, woodland in the West Midlands and grassland in the Cotswolds. There was a lot of highly practical learning to take from Nigel’s work, particularly the importance of careful and sustained management of woodland rides where female Adders in particular can be quite static and remain very close to track edges. He also stressed the importance of dense hedges, and linear brash piles and corridors of denser vegetation to enable travel between vegetation islands especially for males which he has recorded as travelling up to 2km. Nigel also gave us some more insights into hibernation, noting that traditional Pembrokeshire field boundaries (not too dissimilar to those in Cornwall and other parts of the country) provided ideal sites for snakes in the winter and that not all Adders spend the winter in communal dens. All in all an excellent keynote with just a tinge of deep sadness with Nigel’s comment about a once thriving Adder population in the Forest of Dean as possibly the first detailed record of a population being tracked to extinction.

Whilst I have taken some time to describe the presentations and many thanks to all the presenters’ chairs and workshop leaders this annual gig is not just about the formal sessions. The connections, friendships and working relationships that are made during the networking sessions and social events are actually what the HWM is all about. Whether that is in the lunch queue or whether it’s at the always crowded stands of our sponsors it’s all highly valuable.

Thank you so much to the ARC and ARG UK teams and our sponsors for organising these including the Friday night curry and of course the gala dinner with its now traditional quiz ‘Have I got Newts for You’. Jim Foster and John Wilkinson were our compares and as usual had formulated not just great questions but also the challenges of composing a limerick and building a fire-breathing dragon’s mask. All in all, a great night’s entertainment. And even after a full-on night out, on a bright sparkling Sunday morning it was great to encounter several groups of early rising (or late retiring) delegates doing what I was doing - exploring Llandudno’s magnificent Great Orme before the conference re-started.

So don’t miss out – make sure you keep an eye out towards the end of 2023 for the next HWM and make sure you attend. See you at the there.

Go behind the scenes with Howard at HWM2023 in the latest edition of ARC podcast.

Thank you to this year's sponsors:



Thank you to Chris Gleed-Owen and Steve Allain for use of their photographs.