In September 2021 we resumed the monthly Indoor meetings of Chesham & District Natural History. It is important that we follow a Covid Risk Assessment at all of our meetings until further notice.


Venue for Indoor Meetings

The monthly indoor meetings of CDNHS are at the Upper Room of St Mary's Church Rooms, Church Street, Chesham HP5 1HY.  The nearest public car park is at the Water Meadow, a few minutes walk away, and anyone with walking difficulties may park in The Bury driveway, entrance a little further up Church Street, between two lodges.


Field Meeting Reports

The Field Meetings Reports are prepared by our Programme Secretary Hannah Webley. 


Michael Cochrane

A tribute to Michael Cochrane

Michael and Jenny Cochrane joined our Society in May 1965, just over a year after it was established, so although Michael was not a founder member, he was involved in the shaping of the Society right from its formative years. However, it was 1969 before Michael joined the Executive Committee and he was appointed as Editor for the new Society publication called the ‘News Bulletin’. He remained Editor for the following 43 issues which spanned a period of eleven years. During this time he produced a catalogue of informative and sometimes hard hitting articles on all aspects of Society matters, natural history matters in general and other planning issues of all types which could have had an adverse impact on the countryside.

In the early years of the Society, Michael used his wealth of knowledge to assist in the management of two local nature reserves at Church Covert, along the River Chess, and Short Heath Farm which was at Hawridge, just outside Chesham. The Society had been asked by Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Naturalist Trust to manage these two reserves on their behalf. Although there were many influential people in the Society at that time, Michael was one of the driving forces in all aspects of its areas of interest. The Society was the only local natural history group at the time and they carried out some major projects including a detailed survey of all ponds within 5 miles of Chesham Town Centre.

Michael was not always noted for being politically correct and when he felt he needed an ‘Assistant News Bulletin’ editor, the advert was worded such that anyone would be considered, but preference would be given to a ‘blond’ with a 36-24-36 figure. His natural charm and demeanour allowed him to carry off such risqué comments without causing offence to anybody.

By 1980 Michael had taken on the role of Chairman, in addition to his role of Editor, but he soon realised that he could not fulfil the requirements of the both positions effectively, so he decided to relinquish his role as editor. However, he continued to submit articles for publication in the ‘News Bulletin’, many of which were very direct and he occasionally ruffled a few feathers along the way. Michael’s range of subject area was incredible including a series of articles on the ‘Butterflies of the Chilterns’ which extended to many editions of the News Bulletin, and the longest single article ever published running to seven pages entitled ‘Crete for the Cretans’. He remained Chairman for four years and then took the position again later on for one year only to ensure the continuity of the Society at that time.

As the Society grew and developed, weekend trips were introduced. These produced some very memorable moments providing the perfect opportunity for Michael to display his special sense of humour. A visit to Lord Melchett’s Cow Barn started the ball rolling with the rather quirky washing and toilet facilities, and I particularly remember staying in a very unconventional hotel in Lowestoft which led to some incredibly funny moments where the accounts of the strange happenings were shared later in the day. There were also many amusing moments when we carried out ‘glow-worm’ monitoring in pitch darkness at Dancersend. Michael was made an Honorary member in 1990 for his all-round contribution to the Society.

Michael had so many qualities including warmth, wisdom, wit, knowledge and enthusiasm that he and Jenny were greatly missed when they decided to move to Cornwall in 2001. Perhaps, not surprisingly, they retained their interest in the Society and many members had the opportunity to stay with them for short breaks, being treated to delightful hospitality, superb Cornish coastal walks, visits to other nature reserves and the local hostelries to refresh after a successful day’s achievements. 

After a good number of enjoyable years in Cornwall, Michael’s health began to deteriorate and sadly he died in March 2017. He was supported through his illness by his wife Jenny and his family. Both Michael and Jenny’s contribution to the Society was immense and we hope this tribute to Michael  does him justice.


Trevor Brawn 



Bob Brown

I'm sure that many members of the Society were saddened late last year to hear of the death of Bob Brown.  Mary Brown has kindly written a heartfelt obituary of him, to which we have added an article that Bob wrote for the 40th Anniversary of the Society.

BOB BROWN (28/6/1923 to 25/11/2015) 

Bob was a member of CDNHS since the mid-sixties (1967?), after being “persuaded” by Hilda Stevens.

He had a wide knowledge of all things natural history related, but the favourite was always birds - he was a long-time member of the RSPB and also supported “Friends of Ramsay Island”.

Even in his seventies and eighties he could go on long walks and even climb if he needed to. One of our favourite walks in the summer was Pednor.  Bob even led a few local walks. 

He also wrote articles for the CDNHS magazine (usually humorous - this was Bob) and he always filled in the sheet to say what he had seen, and where and when.

We also went on some holidays with the Society (arranged by Alan Morris) Northumberland being the favourite. 

We even managed to land on Bass Rock, (I remember the gannets nesting on the path, pecking our laces).

Also, in the Lake District, we saw a crossbill in the tree of the garden where we were staying and a glimpse of red squirrels running up and down the trees.  One of our party didn’t manage to see a red squirrel so Bob presented him with a stuffed one at the end of the holiday - luckily taken in the spirit intended.

When we were courting some of our “dates” were natural history ones:

  1. a field near Chesham Bois where pyramidal orchids and Chiltern gentian grew;
  2. a field near Hemel Hempstead station where we could see lots of orchids (mostly on the slopes below);
  3. the herons nesting in the trees near St Albans cathedral.

Bob could also identify nearly all trees, even from a sapling.  He took me to Coombe Hill and showed me the juniper bushes there.  He picked a berry to demonstrate the Gin smell.

One of his favourite stories was when a neighbour’s boy was taken to see the bats flying over.  The next evening there was a knock at the door -  the same boy saying “Can we go and see the bats again?”

Bob will be missed by all who knew him.

Mary Brown


Memories . . .

I was walking down the moor by the river recently and saw how the Chess was beginning to look like a rain forest with so much growth on the bank and islands.  How things have changed since my school days 70 years ago, and memories of those days began to flood back.

The Chess was perfectly clear, bank to bank, and was kept clear by a workman in a large punt.  His job was to remove silt and growth from the river.  The water was much deeper, flows being supplemented by spring water from the local cress beds.  Trout could be seen and there were many stickleback and minnows: the target of small boys with fishing nets and jam jars.  Little grebe and kingfishers were regularly seen during the summer, but few ducks; in springtime frogs and tadpoles galore, and an occasional newt.  Herons, known to the locals as mollerns, patrolled looking for food.

Below Lord’s Mill, then fully active, was a shallow part of the river, which we called the ‘horse pond’, where working horses refreshed themselves and children paddled in the summer.  Opposite was a footpath known locally as Bass’s Stile, although who Mr. Bass was and happened to the stile I never discovered.  The path was a gentle slope from Waterside and joined Trapps Lane at what is now the top of Pheasants Way.  On the left were council allotments and on the right a large hay meadow full of flowers.  Overhead was the song of skylarks, and in the summer swallows and martins hunted for insects.  In the hedges of Trapps Lane there was a wealth of birds, and the collecting of birds’ eggs was a regular hobby of children.  Yellowhammers, linnets, corn buntings, pipits were much more common than they are today, as were the wild flowers: cowslips, oxeye daisies, scabious and all the other seasonal ones. 

At Easter there was a tradition that children went either to Cowcroft [or] to Ladies Wood to collect bunches of primroses or violets for their mothers.  Happy days when it seemed always summer sunshine.

How different from today.  Many of the birds of the hedgerows – linnets, thrushes and particularly sparrows to name a few – have declined greatly.  You are lucky now if you hear a cuckoo in the summer, and partridges seem to have gone forever.  Against this we have a huge increase in waterfowl, particularly mallards.  Canada geese and collared dove were not known in the thirties.  Tufted duck, pochard and cormorants are regular winter visitors.  This year two families of tufted duck were raised successfully in Chesham Park.  Pied wagtails seem to have replaced sparrows as scavengers (recently I counted 25 near the Park lake).  Overhead the observant can occasionally see red kites and buzzards.  With intensive farming and the uprooting of hedges, wild flower numbers have plummeted, the exceptions being rosebay willowherb and the prolific Japanese knotweed.

What of the future?  With global warming can we expect flamingos in the Park, ibis on the Chess, vultures patrolling the skies?  Already we have small colony of egrets at Latimer and there have been reports of green parakeets which have prospered in West London.  Can we expect to see bougainvillea in the hedges, proteas and strelitzia growing wild?  It is certainly an exciting future for natural history lovers.

Bob Brown


One of five articles looking back, this one published in the CDNHS News Bulletin no.110, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Society in 2004.   



Victor Scott

It is with great sadness that we have to announce the death of Victor Scott. He died at home on the morning of Tuesday 01 March 2011.

Victor was one of our top local natural history ‘experts’. His range of knowledge in so many different areas of natural history was exceptional, and included wildflowers, butterflies and moths, fungi, geology and many more as well.

He regularly presented illustrated talks to our Society for over 40 years and was undoubtedly our most popular speaker, with over 100 members attending some of the meetings.

In March 1975 we were honoured when Victor accepted the position of Vice President. Subsequently Susan Cowdy stepped down from her position as President in 1991 and we were extremely pleased that Victor agreed to become our new President. He was far more than just a figurehead for our Society. He was actively involved at the grass roots level, giving talks, leading walks and accompanying us on various trips. He became a friend to all of those who had the good fortune to meet him.

Victor had so many endearing qualities, but despite his tremendous knowledge of natural history throughout the world, he never wished to be referred to as an ‘expert’. Above all, it was his ability to enthuse and inspire his audience into getting more involved in the wonderful world around us.

Victor truly was our local David Attenborough.

We send our heartfelt sympathy to Christine and their family.        


Phyllis Johnson

It is with great sadness that we have to report the death of Phyllis Johnson who recently died in care at the age of 90.

Phyllis joined our Society in the late 1960s and was passionate about natural history, horticulture and the countryside in general. She went on almost every trip that the Society organised, and joined in every possible event. 

There is no doubt she was regarded as very knowledgeable and a lovely lady. Amazingly, she was able to recall fond memories of activities that took place over the whole time that she was an active member. We all enjoyed her company and were pleased to continue our association with her after the move to Exeter.

Until mid December, Phyllis was very independent with her own flat and small garden full of plants, but she then suffered a severe stroke and was unable to make a recovery.

We send our sympathy to Colin and the family. 




Defra Consultations

The Department of the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra) has recently been issuing consultation documents that are of relevance to the Society.  Ken Austin, on behalf of the Society, has responded to one such consultation - An Invitation to Shape the Nature of England - based on a more detailed report that he wrote for the Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Biodiversity Partnership.  With permission, here is a copy of his report:

Natural Environment White Paper Team

Dear Sirs,

Response to An Invitation to Shape the Nature of England on behalf of Chesham and District Natural History Society

As we have taken part in the consultative exercise run by Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Biodiversity Partnership we wish to endorse all of their submission.

We only want below to emphasise some of these and to make some additions.

1. We want to identify the important role performed by the co-ordinating role played by the Partnership and by its project co-ordinator.  This is illustrative of the fact that although much can be done by the volunteer sector there needs to be professional co-ordination and support behind it. It should not be thought that by devolving work to the Big Society and the volunteer and charity bodies that there is some magical way of saving money.

Charities and volunteer bodies need professional guidance and suitable equipment. These do not come for free.

2. We advocate the idea put forward in the Partnership’s document of the idea of Wildlife Friendly Towns and Villages. There are a number of schemes which motivate communities to back action within local area. Some examples are Transition Town, Britain in Bloom towns, Town Twinning, Fairtrade Towns, Plastic Bag Free Towns, Walkers are Welcome Towns, etc. (All the above are active in Chesham). These are increasing popular and normally invoke a depth of response from the local community.

A suitable of set of criteria which could make a town or village wildlife friendly could highlight the importance of biodiversity in the urban or semi-rural environment. (Gardens are, for example, large mostly untapped areas with wildlife potential).

Some possible criteria might be natural areas in parks and cemeteries. Wildlife garden competitions. Some way of measuring the use of natural resources – e.g. water. School nature reserves etc.

3. Planning laws seem to be biased against biodiversity. Developers are the initiators of plans and those wanting wild areas are reduced to defending the status quo. Larger areas are protected if they are designated as SSSIs, SAC, SPA,  AONB, Green Belt etc. where the balance has been swung the other way.

However, as Professor Lawton has identified in his Making Space for Nature document the smaller areas such as Local Wildlife Sites but also many sites which have no designation, are extremely important for biodiversity due not only to their diversity of habitat, widespread locations but also their collective size.

What is needed is a form of planning application which specifies that this land shall not be developed because of its local importance. So that any subsequent planning application would have to show why it should overturn the “non-development” status of the land. In this way the developer is put on the defensive having to show why the current status should be overturned.

4. Almost all development has an adverse impact on the natural environment.

Large developments which have impact on traffic levels etc. often have a Section 106 option to offset these problems.

All development plans should be assessed for the impact that it might have on the natural environment and an equivalent of Section 106 be imposed which will be used  offset the impact in as efficient way as possible.

We emphasise that the above is not the totality of our response to the consultation but that we also endorse fully the response of the Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Biodiversity Partnership.

We thank you for the opportunity of responding in this way.

We would be happy to discuss in more detail our thoughts on the Document.

Yours sincerely,

Ken Austin
on behalf of Chesham & District Natural History Society.


Biodiversity and Planning in Buckinghamshire

The Biodiversity and Planning in Buckinghamshire Guidance Document has been produced by Berks Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust on behalf of the Biodiversity Partnership.

The document contains

  • A framework for the consideration of biodiversity in the planning process
  • Summaries of relevant legislation and planning policies
  • Maps showing designated sites in the county
  • Maps indicating protected and priority species and priority habitats
  • Maps showing Biodiversity Opportunity Areas and Green Infrastructure Networks

To see more information about the document and download it as a pdf file click on this link:

Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB)

With the announcement by the Coalition Government that a badger cull may go ahead in parts of England, whereas in Wales the proposed cull has been stopped (at least for the present), there has been renewed interest in the subject.  The PTES has asked the director of the Badger Trust to answer some of the relevant questions.  The article has been published in the latest edition of the magazine "Mammals UK", Autumn 2010.


Further information is also available on the Badger Trust website:

This same issue also has some instructions on how to make some simple nest boxes for small mammals.


Painted Lady butterfly migration 

Butterfly Conservation's 'Butterfly' magazine issues 102, autumn 2009 and 103, Spring 2010, report on the incredible influx of painted lady butterflies in the summer of 2009.  On Saturday 30 May, around 20,000 butterflies were counted at 180 sites from west Cornwall to northern Skye, and it was estimated from these figures that probably 15 million were present in the country overall on that date. 

The riddle of where the butterflies go over winter has also finally been resolved.  In October repots came in from the Channel coasts of sightings of painted ladies heading out to sea towards continental Europe.  Then reports were received of butterflies arriving back in the Mediterranean and North Africa.  It seems that the butterflies use the position of the sun in the sky to navigate by, since the southern orientation of their flight disappeared when the butterflies were flying in overcast conditions.


Peat Problems

The wild plant conservation charity Plantlife highlights the problem of continuing peat extraction in the latest issue of their magazine (issue 56, spring 2010).  Peatland landscapes and their specialist flora are still being irrevocably damaged by commercial peat extraction, yet a "recent survey by the Horticultural Trades Association revealed the two-thirds of garden owners were still unaware of the environmental issues concerned with peat extraction.  And only 28% of the total market share for amateur gardeners has gone peat-free".  Recent surveys by Natural England show that less than 1% of raised bogs remains in a pristine state, whereas more than 15% of the former extent of these bogs is still being extracted for horticultural peat.  English Heritage estimates that 75% of all peatland archaeology - preserved bodies and ancient wooden trackways, for example - has been destroyed.  Peat is also a great sink for carbon dioxide, one of the worst greenhouse gases, so we should be doing more to encourage its conservation and restoration rather than continuing to destroy it.  So read the labels, ask questions of the garden centre if the labels are not clear, support the centres which grow in peat-free compost, and experiment with peat alternatives.



In 2007 Royal Mail started an annual series of Action for Species, in which each year they issue a set of 10 first class postage stamps illustrating endangered species.  Postcards, First Day Covers, presentation packs and other items are also published.

The first series was of Birds, issued in September 2007, and the second of Insects, in April 2008.  The third set, issued in May 2009, celebrated Plant species, which, although still endangered, are now showing signs of recovery.  They include Round-headed Leek, Floating Water-plantain, Lady’s Slipper Orchid, Dwarf Milkwort, Marsh Saxifrage, Downy Woundwort, Upright Spurge, Plymouth Pear, Sea Knotgrass, and Deptford Pink. 

An additional feature was a link to Kew Gardens, celebrating its 250th anniversary.  A miniature sheet was also issued including four further stamps (two at first class and two at 90p) with four views of Kew Gardens.  A 50p coin has been issued by the Royal Mint to commemorate the anniversary of Kew’s foundation.

For 2010 the subject is Mammals, featuring the Humpback Whale, the Scottish Wildcat, the Brown Long-eared Bat, the Polecat, the Sperm Whale, the Water Vole, the Greater Horseshoe Bat, the Otter, the Dormouse and the Hedgehog.  As before they are issued in two rows of five stamps each, all at first class rate.  Members may be interested to know that the Presentation Pack insert has been written by our old friend Pat Morris.

Royal Mail’s usual policy in issuing special stamps is to make them available for sale for one year only.  Unusually, all sets are still available, although it is unlikely that they can be found at any local post office.  Anyone interested in these items should contact:

Royal Mail
EH12 9PE

Telephone: 08457 641 641, or go to

(Personally, I wouldn't advise this - it is the worst website I have ever tried to order from!  They say they intend to revise it - not before time!)


Every year the "British Philatelic Bulletin" runs a poll of their readers to find their favourite stamp of the year and the most popular set. Three points are awarded for the first choice, two for second and one for third. For 2007 the Birds set came an easy first, over 750 points more than the second favourite. Individual stamps from the set peaked at third and fourth positions (the Avocet and Osprey, respectively). The Red Kite was not far behind.

In 2007, for the first time, the poll was opened to Internet users, with slightly different results, but the Birds set still came third in popularity. Perhaps, since voters were international, it was not surprising that the first and second places went to The Beatles and Harry Potter sets!

In the past the natural history sets have also been very popular, winners being Flowers in 1987, The Linnean Society in 1988, Birds in 1989, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in 1996, Tree and Leaf in 2000, and the delightful Woodland Animals in 2004.