Our Chair speaks – Matt Andrew’s 2024 AGM address

Welcome to the 55th Annual General Meeting of our Milton Keynes Natural History Society (MKNHS).  Since 1968, the society has been meeting on a regular basis with our current president, Roy Maycock being one of the three original founding members of the society.  We have been gathering here at Bradwell Abbey since 2005 and until recently, Roy has been present at the vast majority of these meetings and it is only infirmity which prevents him from attending now. 

Over the past twelve months, the MKNHS has proven able to meet the stated aims and objectives of the society:

  • To promote public interest in wildlife;
  • To provide a meeting place for people with Natural History interests;
  • To encourage the study and preservation of our flora and fauna;
  • To provide a forum for Natural History debate.

The society owes a debt of thanks to so many of its members for hosting wildlife walks and talks throughout our 12-month calendar. We are one of the very few organisations who meet on a weekly basis and in order to ensure there is a varied and relevant programme of events for our members to enjoy, a lot of hard work and preparation is necessary.  It represents a remarkably good return for our £25 annual membership fee in my opinion!

Your committee consists of six active members of the society as well as the society’s officers and we all try to ensure that the society’s activities and events are properly thought out, prepared in advance and ultimately run smoothly and professionally 

In particular, I would like to record our thanks to Martin Kincaid and Diana Parsons for ensuring the evening talks and presentations are pre-arranged for the forthcoming seasons.   Martin has decided to stand down now from his role as vice-president and from the committee, I wish to personally express my thanks to him for everything he has done on all of our behalf over the past years.

Your committee meets on a quarterly basis and there is a full agenda for each of these meetings which are held on Zoom.  I wish to thank Mervyn Dobbin, the society’s secretary for his dedication and thorough recording of these meetings as well as being the society’s principle receiver of external requests and e-mails from various outside organisations and parties who wish to communicate with us;  he is the person who prepares the rest of the committee with agendas for the quarterly meetings. He invariably ensures these communications are sent out to the committee members with recommendations and suggestions as to how they might be responded to.

Our treasurer is Linda Murphy and she has generously agreed to carry on this role for the next 12 months.  The role of treasurer for any organisation such as ours demands accuracy, timely responses to banking requests and attention to detail and Linda’s reports for each of the committee meetings are always easy to read, understand and accurate.  She should be commended for keeping our society’s funds and accounts so well and our thanks are also due to Anne Strutton for assisting Linda and double-checking the accounts.

The website is an absolutely essential part of our communication strategy and Martin Ferns, Jagoda Zajac and Linda Murphy are the driving forces behind this exceptionally important aspect of society communication. Thanks are also due to Bob Phillips for looking after the Recent Sightings page. We thank too Rebecca Hiorns for her invaluable contribution to the website maintainance and content prior to her retirement from this part of the society’s activities.   Over 100,000 views of the website have been recorded since its inception in 2015, quite an achievement and a good indication of the interest and concern local MK residents have for the preservation and care of their local wildlife and habitats.

Over the period of a year, there will be many changes to the society’s membership;  we maintain just over a hundred members on our books, many of whom regularly attend our meetings, be they indoors or outside on our wildlife walks during the warmer months.

The level and variety of knowledge and indeed, expertise enjoyed by our society is reflected in you, our members and the identification pages on the website are testament to this exceptional pool of knowledge.

Mike LeRoy has been instrumental in campaigning for more recording of wildlife sightings and along with Jenny Mercer and Joe Clinch, encouraging the establishment of more regular and established identification guides on the website.  Mike mentioned this in last year’s AGM and it is high time we followed this up with some action.

Anne and Mark Strutton continue to excel in providing a quiz for us all every December, this always provokes a lot of thought and much laughter too, I want to thank them both for putting together what must be a very time-consuming but much looked forward to, now annual event.

Tim Arnold is deserving of everyone’s appreciation for taking on the role of technical expert for our presentations and enabling Zoom participants to log into our evening talks.  This is no small task, presenting Tim with all sorts of technical issues to deal with at very short notice in view of the myriad different computer systems brought along to our talks.

Tony Wood is a stalwart of the society and every week without fail ensures with Paul Lund that the room here at the Cruck Barn is both ready and prepared.  Joe Clinch is also an essential component to this aspect of room preparation and shut-down. They all arrive prior to the rest of us and then stay beyond our closing time to ensure the room is properly shut down and made good for the next users.  Paul is also owed thanks for continuing to win at least one prize (1st this year) in the annual photographic competition …!

If I haven’t mentioned you or other individuals specifically, this is because there is so much valuable work being carried out by you as a group of people with nature at the heart of your activities and I apologise if you have been missed out for a specific mention … 

Finally, there are always going to be occasions when members here either leave the society or indeed, sadly cannot be with us any more and here I am referring to our dear and valued friend, Colin Dockerty who passed away suddenly in the autumn of 2023.

Colin was a regular contributor to the society’s activities and even if you hadn’t joined one of his many guided walks around Milton Keynes then you would undoubtedly have enjoyed the coffee, tea and biscuits he provided at every indoor meeting.  He was instantly recognisable as he usually wore shorts even in the most inclement weather; I recall meeting him last summer inside the Milton Keynes shopping centre, shorts and rucksack making him easily seen even from several shops away!

Colin has left a big hole in the society’s activity agenda which we are attempting to fill but he also left a legacy for the society in the form of a huge library of natural history books which his family have kindly donated to us for forthcoming book sales, yet to be announced.  Many of these publications are specialised and rare and we will be offering these for sale at some time in the near future with all the proceeds helping to bolster our funds.

On a personal note, I wish to sincerely thank you all for entrusting the role of Chair to me. It is a privilege and honour even to be considered for this position and I hope that I have fulfilled this role to the best of my ability and to your satisfaction.  I am endeavouring to set up a national group of single points of contact for all wildlife societies such as ours with a view to having regular contact with other like-minded organisations, enabling the sharing and dissemination of information pertinent to our interests.  The influence and power of persuasion such a potentially huge group of erudite, nature-loving people in this country could bring to the table could have huge ramifications for persuading or dissuading many aspects of national or local land and wildlife management policies and I believe should be of benefit to all of us.  I am sincerely hoping to report this exercise both complete and functioning by this time next year.

An AGM such as ours can be a potentially dry and unexciting part of the group’s yearly activities but it is an essential part of making us what we are.

There are several forthcoming vacancies on the society’s committee which must be filled by this time next year and I would ask each and every one of us here tonight as well as those members unable to attend to consider whether they could assist with the committee.

We are as strong as the number, diversity and knowledge of people we have in the society and your views and opinions make us what we are so please do seriously consider going onto the committee, if only for a year in order to ensure the MKNHS moves on from strength to strength over the years ahead.  Without new committee members the future of the society in its present form may even be in doubt so we as a group really do need to consider this future-planning issue.

The society represents all that is good for our natural environment and in Milton Keynes we are blessed with many and varied habitats providing homes to all manner of wild and remarkable things.  Let us keep on endeavouring to ensure that we provide a space for those myriad species of flora and fauna to thrive in and to ensure that our own fascination and wonder at the variety and beauty surrounding us is given a place and format to share our interests, concerns and knowledge through the Milton Keynes Natural History Society. We surely owe this not only to ourselves but to future generations of people living here who need to both enjoy and cherish the astonishing abundance of wildlife found in our region.

Matt Andrews
12 March 2024