A capacity audience attended the Autumn Meeting on Saturday 9 November to enjoy presentations on the spiders and dragonflies of Hertfordshire and take part in the Society's Annual General Meeting. The Society's prestigious 1875 Awards for the year were also presented.
Hertford-based enthusiast Christopher Benton urged the conference to show more love and "less of the Halloween" for spiders as his prelude to introducing a personal selection of species he has recorded across the county.
These range from the familiar Giant House Spider Tegenaria gigantea and the Garden Spider Araneus diadematus to more elusive species that he has become skilled at coaxing out of walls and crevices, using an electric toothbrush. The latter include the widespread Amaraubius similis and Amaraubius ferox, which also has a liking for drain covers.
Among woodland spiders, Christopher's field work suggests that a jumping spider, Marpissa muscosa, assessed as nationally rare is quite common in Hertfordshire, especially along fences. Another supposedly scarce species, Xysitcus lanio, also appears to be common in our county.
He showed slides of several beautifully coloured and patterned spiders, including the marsh-dwelling Floronia bucculenta, which changes colour when disturbed. He also reported on the discovery of a new Hertfordshire species, Segestria florentina, whose female body length of up to 22mm makes it a candidate for Europe's biggest spider. Their iridescent mouth-parts have led to misplaced media denigation as "green-fanged Draculas".
Autumn Meeting speakers (l. to r.) Chantal Helm, Roy Woodward, Christopher Benton and Ian Carle, with outgoing Chair Agneta Burton and her successor, Peter Tallantire.
New Hertfordshire Damselfly and Dragonfly survey announced
In a second keynote conference presentation, county recorder Roy Woodward announced plan to launch Hertfordshire's second countywide survey of damselflies and dragonflies, starting in 2020. It will 20 years since the first five-year survey which resulted in the publication in 2008 of Dragonflies and Damselflies of Hertfordshire by Alan Reynolds, Tom Gladwin and Christine Shepperson.
Roy highlighted significant changes in the county list of recorded species since then. These include only one species, the White-legged Damselfly Platycnemis pennipes that appears to be in decline. The number of confirmed or probable breeding species has, meanwhile, increased from 19 to 26, including five new to Hertfordshire. The latter are Willow Emerald Damselfly Chalcolestes viridis, Norfolk Hawker Anaciaeschna isoceles, Lesser Emperor Anax parthenope, Scarce Chaser Libellula fulva, and Red-veined Darter Sympetrum fonscolombii.
New recorded species without evidence of breeding are the Southern Migrant Hawker Aeshna affinis (not seen in 2019), Vagrant Emperor Anax ephippiger and Downy Emerald Cordulia aenea.
However, Roy emphasised that for the new survey all Hertfordshire dragonfly and damselfly records would be needed, including the common species. The basis for the survey would be 1km squares.
1875 Awards for 2019
The award for an outstanding Hertfordshire naturalist was made to Barry Trevis. Well-known to Bird Club members as the long-time voluntary warden of Lemsford Springs nature reserve, Barry has been part of a scientific team (with Ken Smith and Mike Reed) since 1983 studying the winter territories of Green Sandpipers Tringa ochropus and, in more recent years, tracking their migration. He has also made a distinguished contributon to bird ringing in the county.
Barry Trevis receives his 1875 Award from Peter Oakenfull
Alan Gardiner received the award for an outstanding contribution to natural history in Hertfordshire. Currently our county bird recorder, Alan's long-term contribution has included the development of online recording through the Bird Club website and helping to verify the increasingly large number of records submitted.
Ken Smith presents the 1875 Award to Alan Gardiner
He has also co-organised the project to retain and study the county's last colony of Tree Sparrows Passer montanus at Tyttenhanger.
Mammal, Amphibian and Reptile Survey extended to a sixth year
Chantal Helm, co-organiser of the Herts Mammals, Amphibians and Reptiles Atlas (MARA) project confirmed, in an update presentation, that the survey was being extended for a sixth year. Although at least one species had now been recorded in almost all the 2km tetrads covering Hertfordshire, there were still quite a few where common species were still unrecorded. To date, 11,266 mammal records had been received and 1,098 records of amphibians and reptiles. However, there are still no survey records of Adder Vipera berus or Dormouse Muscardinus avellanarius.
'Digitising' the HNHS Transactions
Ian Carle, Manager of the Herts Environmental Records Centre (HERC) and a member of the HNHS management committee, reported on the near completion of work to scan and proof-check the Society's Transactions (nowadays published as the Hertfordshire Naturalist and Hertfordshire Bird Report) going back to 1875. Website design work was now underway to create searchable, online archive.
Ian thanked the volunteers who had carried out the proof checking using the bespoke software he designed. He also thanked the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust (HMWT) for help with publicity and allowing him to use paid time to work on the project.
He also reported on progress producing a State of Nature report for Hertfordshire – a joint project between HERC and the HMWT, supported by the HNHS. To be published in Spring 2020, this would identify county species of the greatest conservation concern.
New HNHS Chair and Treasurer
At the Society's Annual General Meeting, a new Chair – Peter Tallantire – was elected, and also a new management committee member – Dan Fletcher – to succeed him as Treasurer. Peter warmly thanked Agneta Burton, the outgoing Chair, who was presented with a bouquet of flowers. Agneta generously agreed to help the society through a period of administrative transition by remaining in post for two extra years following the expiry of the Chair's usual two-year term.
David Utting presents outgoing HNHS Chair Agneta Burton with flowers
Thanks, as always, go to Alister Leggatt and colleagues at Affinity Water who hosted the conference at their Hatfield offices and kindly provided the refreshments.