The 2024 Hertfordshire Bird Conference drew a capacity audience at Affinity Water’s headquarters in Hatfield on Sat 2nd March 2024.  The theme was wetlands and especially gravel pits with talks by Graham White on the fortunes of waterbirds on the restored gravel pits of the Colne Valley and a talk by Herts. Bird Club Chair, Rupert Evershed, on the birds of Stanborough Gravel Pits.

This report includes links to videos allowing those who missed the conference to catch-up with the main presentations.

Graham identified Broadwater Lake and Stockers Lake as the main bodies of water in the Colne Valley for wildfowl, but he was keen to emphasise the importance of all the lakes together to provide wildfowl with safe refuge, feeding and breeding areas. 

Sadly, much of his survey data showed continuing declines (reflected nationally) for most species with suspected causes being climate change, changes in habitat and human disturbance.  A case in point, is Broadwater Lake currently facing a planning proposal to enlarge a water sports facility and greatly reduce the area for wildlife.

Rupert Evershed described Stanborough Gravel Pits as one of the top sites for birds in the county highlighting the huge variety of birds (152 species and counting!) that have visited the pits over the last 3 or 4 years.  Sadly, the future of the pits is uncertain with last year seeing the start of restoration work to farmland.  Hope is held out however in the form of the huge quantities of water on site that are likely to ensure some kind of wetland being maintained there.

Regular features at the conference included an update from BTO representative Martin Ketcher on the survey work undertaken in the county.  He emphasised the importance of the long-running Breeding Birds Survey (now running over 30 years) and requested that any potential surveyors please step forward to continue the good work.

Another regular and much-anticipated feature was Graham Knight’s ‘Review of the Year’ in which it became clear that 2023 was a particularly good year for rarities in the county.  Some, like the Little Bunting, stayed around long enough for many observers to connect while others, like an American Wigeon, were only seen by one or two observers.

The Conference finished with an Open Panel discussion on the future of the Herts Bird Club.  Chaired by Tony Blake, the panel included Tim Hill, Graham Knight, Rupert Evershed and Hannah Grimsdale – the ecologist for Affinity Water – giving their thoughts on issues raised.  Comments made by the audience were particularly valuable. Among the issues raised were opportunities to embrace social media and the digital world more fully and for greater social diversity among the membership. Hopes were expressed that more young people and members from different ethnic backgrounds could be encouraged to take part.

Congratulations go to Andy Day who won the Herts Bird Photo of the Year competition with his photo of a Chiffchaff in the blossom.  Joint runners up were Ian Williams with his photo of courting Great Crested Grebes and Robert Kitchen with his photo of a Wren.  Congratulations also go to Janet Southwood who won the 'Guess the Beak' competition.

As always, thanks go to Alister Leggatt and his colleagues at Affinity Water for hosting our conference.  Alister provided his usual update on water resources in Hertfordshire and, despite the copious amounts of rain over the winter, assured us that keeping water usage low was nevertheless still a priority!