#SciFri: Herpetofauna Workers Meeting 2020
Back in early February, I attended the a conference on the 15th and 16th February in Southport up on the Sefton coast. Despite the fact that Storm Dennis was blowing and coronavirus was yet to cause the disruption is has (to the western world at least), approximately 200 herpetologists from across the UK assembled to discuss everything conservation. The Herpetofauna Workers Meeting is an annual event organised by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust, with the support of a number of sponsors. It’s not held in the same location each year and moves around depending on regional projects and whether or not a suitable venue can be found at an affordable rate for delegates. Everyone from practitioners, ecologists and researchers attend with quite the diversity of age range and experience levels.
The format of the meeting is generally the same, with it consisting of two days of talks with a workshop to chose from on both days. The talks focus mainly on the conservation and monitoring of British and Irish herpetofauna but sometimes these stray to further off climes. It’s often nice to see how similar techniques used here in Europe are being employed in Asia or South America to quantify the status of species there. Rob Gandola from the Herpetological Society of Ireland kicked things off with a fantastic talk looking at whether any of the handful of amphibian and reptile species found in Ireland can be regarded as native, using historic records and genetic analysis.
Due to the fact that we were on the Sefton coast where a large conservation effort has been made to help natterjack toad and sand lizard populations, there were a number of talks on these projects. It was great to hear that the community really value the efforts and that volunteers have been able to assist with the restoration of dues in order to provide breeding habitat for both of the target species, as well as other species that occupy the habitat. I personally think we should move away from the single species model in conservation and take a more holistic approach, for a number of reasons that I’ll probably cover in a week or two. All of these projects were linked to Back From The Brink, a new collaboration looking to restore species and habitats in the UK, with the specific project being worked on aptly named ‘Gems in the Dunes’.
The final couple of talks given by Rory Dimond and John Grundy were a miniature grass snake symposium. Rory’s presentation was on efforts to monitor an urban population of grass snakes in London and John’s on whether or not grass snakes are extinct in north-east England. Both very interesting talks with some similarities to my own research so I’m looking forward to how they play out in the next couple of years. Both of the workshops I attended were in regards to new online monitoring systems that have been developed, which compliment each other as well as being designed for slightly different user groups. It will also be interesting to see if there are any updates next year as to how these have been used and how effective they are.
As with all conferences, there is also some fun as well. The Herp Workers Meeting is no exception and on the Saturday night, there is always a gala dinner and a quiz. The quiz is suitably named ‘Have I Got Newts For You’ and styled on the BBC satirical quiz show Have I Got New For You. This was lots of fun, especially as by this time everyone had consumed a few beers and the formalities/anxieties had left the room. The quiz is a great way for everyone from the multiple professions to mix and network. Thankfully the meeting wasn’t a month later as it would have no doubt been cancelled but it was highly enjoyable as always. Despite the fact I didn’t speak at this year’s conference I suspect that I shall be asked to do so at next year’s meeting once I have some more solid data from my PhD project.