New Welsh Review

Connecting the Dragons

Amy Aed admires the wonders of amphibian and reptilian creatures as she recounts her experience at the fascinating talk of Mark Barber, a member of a Welsh Conservationist Group.

PUBLISHED ON: 26/02/20


TAGS: Science, Wales, animals, community, conservation

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I’ll let you in on something that I have scarcely told anyone before: a part of me secretly wants to become a zoologist. I’ve always loved the idea of dedicating my prime to studying spider monkeys in the jungle, or living amongst rare flocks of birds in the mountains. I don’t think that I could ever knowingly invest my whole life in a field where I job. I have kept this desire to myself, only letting it occasionally spill out when I talk to someone as obsessed with small creatures as I am. This is exactly what happened at the Connecting the Dragons talk last night.

I walked into the Hugh Owen Building at Aberystwyth University’s Penglais campus, expecting the lecture hall to be filled with numerous other students my age. Instead, I was welcomed into a hall full of sixty+ year olds. Everyone seemed to know one another, talking excitedly about spotting frogspawn in their now being used in the latest medication. It felt as though I had walked into a nature-crazy haven. I took a seat behind one of the most prominent members of the community, and pulled out a notebook, keen to learn more about these creatures.

The talk consisted of updates on what the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Group has been doing over the course of the past few months, followed by an introduction from Mark Barber, one of the members from Swansea. He opened his a presentation with an image of the Welsh flag in which the dragon had been replaced by a very cute Great Crested Newt. He shook his head as we all laughed at the illustration, and asked us a seemingly straight-forward question: why should we be interested in conservation?

As more scientific answers such as, ‘vertebrate ectotherms struggle with fragmented landscapes!’ and ‘anthropogenic change is killing amphibians and reptiles!’ battled against arguments such as ‘climate change is bad,’ I began to realise that this was the first lecture I’d had all year that I wasn’t hating. Instead, I found myself listening to every word, messily scribbling down facts in my notebook with an eagerness to learn that I haven’t experienced all semester. Mark was so passionate and eager to teach us something new that the room filled with a positive energy; palpable and motivating.

Over the course of ninety minutes, we were educated on a plethora of subjects, such as how anti-venom is a dangerous toxin in itself, how adders are actually pretty harmless creatures that are killed for no good reason, and that ‘smooth newts’ have crests which look exactly like a McCoy crisp.

The hall wasn’t at full capacity, meaning that the talk took on a more personal air. As Mark asked the audience if adders lay eggs, a voice from the middle of the hall yelled out ‘No!’ Mark rolled his eyes and commented, ‘Alright David, we know you know,’ and the rest of the audience laughed. It felt almost as though I was at a community reunion, where everyone knew everything about small, scaly creatures, and were ready to share a laugh with some old friends. It was pretty refreshing after so many lectures where everyone is too distant to even make eye contact with one another.

I ended up filling my notebook with fun facts that I otherwise would have not have learnt – the common frog likes temporary bodies of water which predators have not yet discovered; common toads (Latin name: bufo bufo!) have toxins in their skin which make them confident and un-afraid of predators, and sometimes snakes don’t inject their bites with venom because they find it too tiresome to produce. Let me tell you, the talk was every wannabe-zoologist’s dream.

The talk finished with Mark telling us more about his organisation, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation. It turns out that ARC is a pretty important group in Wales, dedicating their time to educate the public, cutting down trees (which actually make ideal environments for endangered species of reptile!), and reintroducing species to Wales.

Lecture room C22 at the Hugh Owen Building will hold another one of these talks on 2 March, delving into all things bat-related. This community of animal-lovers is open to anyone willing to listen and learn. I’ll see you all there!


Amy Aed is one of this season’s Digital Cultural Correspondent in a new partnership with Aberystwyth University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.