Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#SciFri: Herpetofauna Workers Meeting 2023

It sure has been a hot minute since I last posted on this blog! Sorry that it has been since July, I’ve been busy with wrapping up my PhD, and then taking a break from everything afterwards so that I didn’t burn out. As many of you have likely seen, I successfully defended my thesis a month ago, and I’m currently working in some minor corrections. The end is in sight! Two weeks ago, I was travelling with my colleagues to Llandudno in north Wales, for the first in-person Herpetofauna Workers Meeting since 2020! Who would have known how crazy the world would become after we left Southport in early February that year. Aside from having the chance to catch-up with old friends, I was also looking forward to presenting a talk on my PhD research as so far, I have kept things pretty much under wraps at these kinds of events. If you’ve seen any of my previous talks, you know I usually talk about midwife toads!

The conference started with a video message by well-known Welsh wildlife presenter Iolo Williams

It may have taken a long time to get to Llandudno from Canterbury (and to get back again), but it was certainly worth it! Seeing everyone again after so long, having a beer, and discussing the cool research we’d all been involved with is one of the most motivating feelings. I spent the majority of the first day of the conference shaking people’s hands who were congratulating me for completing my PhD, although some others also did this at the social curry the night before the conference. When it came around the 4th, we were all engaged with improving our knowledge of the herpetofauna of the British Isles, and how each of the species mentioned were doing. This included talks on everything from the population genetics of sand lizards from Ben Owens (Bangor University), to how adders in Cornwall may be stuck in a climate trap given by Becky Turner (University of Kent).

My friend Tariq Stark kicking off the afternoon micro-session on the greatest snake species of them all!

That afternoon however, was where things really kicked off! Both myself and the legendary Tariq Stark (RAVON) both delivered talks on the greatest snake species of them all, grass snakes. Tariq’s talk related to grass snakes’ need for artificial egg laying sites, and how this is tied to a strong association between themselves and our historic agricultural practices. Tariq also spoke a bit on the successful mitigation action of building more compost and manure heaps in the Netherlands, and the positive benefits to grass snakes. After warming the crowd up, I took the stage to give a talk on how I had spent three summers running around Norfolk like a lunatic catching grass snakes, in order to learn more about their population size, and what the trend was. I’m hoping now that a number of people take the information from both of our talks to help bolster grass snake conservation in Great Britain.

Who doesn’t love playing snap with snakes? Photo credit: Dave Willis

Aside from the wide range of talks and amazing workshops, the Herpetofauna Workers Meeting wouldn’t be the same without the coveted gala dinner and Have I Got Newts For You quiz. This is an annual event, where Jim Foster and John Wilkinson of the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust put together a comical quiz. As veterans of HIGNFY, the team I was a member of (the Japanese Jack Mackerals), we knew that heckling and banter with the quizmasters were part of the game. Aside from that, the questions and Taskmaster-like challenge this year were superb. After not being able to compete in teams for the past three years, everyone came together and had a great time! There was a lot of speculation after the result that we had won, that our team was cheating, however we simply knew pretty much all of the answers – without needing to risk things with a guess. I guess that what happens when you have a team of nutters that love amphibians and reptiles!

The winners of the 2023 Have I Got Newts For You, the Japanese Jack Mackerels (minus a few others including Mark Goodman who mistimed their opportunity to mingle)

I’m very much looking forward to next year’s Herpetofauna Workers Meeting when I may be able to share some more results from my PhD, or the final results of our long-term midwife toad project! Hopefully, I’ll see you there!

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