The West Midlands Regional meeting was held on Sunday 17 November 2013. Kindly hosted by the Herefordshire Amphibian and Reptile Team (HART), the meeting attracted over 80 attendees representing many of the local ARGS - plus a few from further afield (Essex!), to share their experiences and participate in debate on the role of captive breeding and re-introduction in native herp conservation. The meeting kicked off with an excellent and thought provoking overview of the rationale for re-introductions from ARC's Conservation Director Jim Foster, and was followed by expert case studies from John Baker (SARG), Katie MacDonald (West Midlands Safari Park) and Chris Davies (ARC), on their varied practical experiences of captive breeding/head starting pool frogs, adders and sand lizards. Another important theme of the meeting was adder conservation, and we were delighted to be able to welcome Chris Durrant from the Institute of Zoology, to bring us up to date on the adder genetic work they have been conducting in collaboration with HART, and from HART's own Nigel Hand with a fascinating insight into the new telemetry studies on the Malvern Hills showing adder movements in 2013. The day finished with an animated discussion about the the role of captive breeding and the factors affecting (mainly) adder popluations, and how best to meet the challenges of recent declines in numbers, and a round up from the local ARGs.
The undoubted highlight of the meeting was the presentation of the Julia Wycherley Award for significant and substantial contribution to UK herpetology. Nigel Hand nominated his local 'adder expert' at the ARGUK AGM in Telford in 2011, and with unanimous support from the ARGs, he was able to present the award - a watercolour of one of her own adders 'Wave', to Sylvia Sheldon for her amazing 30 years of studying and conserving the adders of the Wyre Forest. The feeling of the meeting is best summed up by Tracy Farrer (Derbyshire ARG) - "A wonderful woman, she's been an inspiration to me ever since I heard a radio interview with her many years ago".
In Sylvia's own words:
Thank you to all who made yesterday such an enjoyable day. All the Speakers were very well informed on their subjects, I, of course, especially enjoyed Nigel's presentation on his Telemetry project. Also Chris Monk's presentation of adders in the snow in Derbyshire, most interesting. It seems 17th February was a trigger for emergence of male adders, as we too had our first male adder on that date. But a good mix of speakers and subjects.The Buffet lunch was excellent and ample, and the Kitchen Ladies looked after us all so well, providing lots of welcome tea and coffee.
Following lunch Nigel began to explain about the Julia Wycherley Award he was about to present and although I was aware that Nigel kept looking in my direction, I was VERY SURPRISED when he called out my name...I really didn't have a clue. I felt very privileged to have been singled out for the award, and realise I didn't say much, apart from thank you, and I overlooked to give credit to my dear friend Chris, who, I learned later, was an accomplice in getting a photo to Nigel to give to the artist to paint. A very good painting of 'Wave', the male adder. I will write to Bernard Hickey to thank him. But back to Chris who has been a valuable friend and adder spotter alongside me since 1982, I should have given him credit for the many years he too has spent observing adders.