Around 80 members and friends enjoyed the Society's Autumn Conference on Saturday 3 November, which featured a leading enthusiast for much-maligned slugs and a Hertfordshire expert on promoting biodiversity through the planning system.

Amateur limacologist Chris de Feu mounted a vigorous defence of slugs, insisting that only a handful of species (out of more than 40 found in the UK) fairly fit the description of garden pests. In pursuit of his campaign to increase national recording of slugs, he not only spoke  entertainingly about his passion, but also identified and recorded all but one* of 15 species among the 49 specimens brought to the conference by members.

Chris de Feu's slug identification workshop

 

Matt Dodds, Planning and Diversity Manager of the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, meanwhile, explained his role vetting planning applications with a view to identifying those where wildlife habitats are in need of protection and improvement. He emphasised the importance of influencing the planning policies adopted by local authorities, since they set the criteria on which proposals are accepted or refused.  He added that it was crucial that scientifically valid measurements of biodiversity being used in assessing applications and in any requirements placed on developers. 

The conference also heard from Chantal Helm, a coordinator of the Hertfordshire Mammals, Amphibians and Reptiles Atlas (MARA) project, about the survey that started in 2015 and is approaching its final year. She encouraged members to improve the coverage of tetrads where few or no species have been reported so far. The MARA team is publishing details of a number of walking routes through under-recorded areas to help with this.

The Society's prestigious 1875 Awards for 2018 were presented at the conference. The award for "an outstanding Hertfordshire naturalist" went to self-taught fungus expert Kerry Robinson, who has identified and recorded thousands of species in the county over many years, including 25 that were new to the UK.

Kerry Robinson (left) was presented with her award by June Crew

The award for an "outstanding contributor to natural history in Hertfordshire" was made to Graham White, Head of Reserves Ecology at the RSPB, who is a founder and former Chair of the Herts Bird Club and whose conservation work included a key part in converting the gravel pits at Amwell into one of the county's premier wildlife reserves.

Graham White (left) receives his award from Tim Hill

The Society's Annual General Meeting also took place during the conference when the following officers and Management Committee members were elected for the coming year: Agneta Burton (Chair), David Utting (Secretary), Peter Tallantire (Treasurer), Ian Carle, Ian Denholm, Ronni Edmond-Brown (Recorders' Committee Chair) Judy England (Editor, Herts Naturalist), Jack Fearnside, Alan Gardiner, Joe Gray, Chantal Helm, Geoff Hill (Membership Secretary), Tim Hill (Events Organiser) Trevor James (Archivist) and  Jenny Sherwen (Website Manager), 

*The mystery Ambigolimax slug may require DNA analysis before its identity can be confirmed!