Accessibility Page Navigation
Style sheets must be enabled to view this page as it was intended.
For tortoise, terrapin and turtle care and conservation


George Wallace
BCG Librarian 1979-1988 and 1990-1993


This account of the origins and development of the BCG is based on information available in the Newsletters, Committee minutes and correspondence, together with personal memories of the events. There were numerous changes in the organisation of the BCG and in the members of the Committee, as will become apparent in the narrative. I apologise to anyone who feels that they, and many events, have not been given due coverage, but the large volume of information from which it has been extracted has made this inevitable.

Inaugural meeting 1976

In April 1976, Derek Foxwell and Diane Tottle proposed forming a tortoise and terrapin group in the Bristol area, as it was felt that the various herpetological organisations did not offer enough information and guidance to people who were interested in Chelonia. There was no intention to form a fee-paying society, but to concentrate on personal contact. Potential members were to be contacted by word of mouth and notices in veterinary surgeries.

The first meeting of the Chelonia Group was held on 26th June 1976 at the house of Derek Foxwell, in scorching heat, with 20 members present, including the following:

Derek and Angela Foxwell

Diane and Christopher Tottle

Richard and Anne West

Mike Linley and Rosemary Jarmin

Donald and Florrie Croft

Paul and Margaret Edwards

George and Elizabeth Wallace

Julian Sims

Agreement was reached that the gathering would remain an individual group and not become a society. Meetings would be held at four to six week intervals, if possible in members’ houses, but if numbers became too great hire of a larger room or hall would be considered. Slides were shown and Derek’s amphibians and reptiles were viewed, and this became the pattern for subsequent meetings. A description of the meeting was produced by Derek Foxwell and this became Newsletter No.1, the first of many.

Subsequent meetings and newsletters

At the second meeting of the Group, on 1st August 1976, at Diane Tottle’s house with 24 members present, a raffle was held for the book ‘Sea Turtles of the World’, donated by Richard West, the money raised to be used for postage and to start a Group Library. This meeting was reported in Newsletter No.2, by Diane and Derek.

At the next meeting, on 3rd October 1976, at Mike Linley’s house, Mike agreed to act as Librarian to the Group and gifts of books were made by several members. Newsletter No.3, which described the meeting, suggested including articles by members on their experiences with Chelonia. This was to widen the content and interest of the newsletter. Advice was given on hibernation and that, if the local veterinary surgeon was not familiar with reptile diseases, he may contact either J.E.Cooper, BVSc, MRCVS, DTVM or O.F.Jackson, PhD, MRCVS, who would be willing to give advice. A long association of John Cooper and Oliphant Jackson with the BCG followed from this initial offer. For the first time, ‘Bristol Chelonia Group’ appeared in print, at the conclusion of an article by John Cooper on pathological investigation.

Elizabeth Wallace’s house was the venue for the November meeting of the group. There was the general discussion on future meetings of the group and the care of tortoises and terrapins, accompanied by showing slides. Plans were made for the February meeting to be an outing to Bristol Zoo. Newsletter No.4 reported the meeting and included articles by J.E.Cooper, Diane Tottle and Elizabeth Wallace, following the suggestion in Newsletter No.3.

The outing to Bristol Zoo in 1977 was attended by 35 members, who were privileged to have a behind-the-scenes look in the reptile house. The viewing included Giant tortoises, Jaboty tortoises, and handling reticulated pythons. Newsletter No.5, which described the visit to the zoo, was an enlarged edition of nine pages, and among several articles was one from Jim Wright of Cornwall on ‘runny nose syndrome’, with the suggestion that the dust from hay used for insulation in hibernation (a common practice at that time) was a probable cause of some runny noses. Also published was a request from Dr Jackson for information concerning measurements to obtain body weight/length ratios of European tortoises.

Derek Foxwell hosted the sixth group meeting in March 1977, and gave a talk on the internal and external parasites associated with tortoises and terrapins, with examples and slides shown and the means of dealing with them in consultation with a veterinary surgeon. Also demonstrated was the correct way to measure and weigh tortoises for weight-to-measurement ratios, as requested by Dr Jackson. In Newsletter No.6, which reported the meeting, the problem of finding homes for Red-eared terrapins was mentioned.

The first year of the Bristol Chelonia Group has been described in some detail to show how it developed to become a successful group, due in particular to the dedication of Derek Foxwell and Diane Tottle, but also to the other founding members of the group.

During the remainder of 1977 there was a visit to Paignton Zoo and two more meetings at members’ homes. Newsletters reported successful hatchings of Testudo graeca and T. hermanni eggs, and a Daily Telegraph article by the World Wildlife Fund criticised the rate of importation of tortoises into Britain, suggesting 99 in every 100 failed to get through their first hibernation.

The Committee and a new name: 1978

With the increase in membership and increasing workload in organising the group, it was decided to form a small committee to spread the work involved and also to introduce an annual subscription to help with running costs. A letter was circulated to the membership as it stood in 1978 to give an opinion on the forgoing proposals. The great majority of replies were favourable, and changes were to be made to the organisation as follows:

  1. The group to be renamed the ‘British Chelonia Group’ to reflect the fact of being the only group in the United Kingdom to cater solely for the chelonian enthusiast.
  2. The newsletter to be published six times a year.
  3. A journal named Testudo to be published twice a year.
  4. An annual subscription of £1 for adult and family members.
  5. Committee:
    • Derek Foxwell – Chairman/Journal editor/Veterinary liaison
    • Diane Tottle – Secretary/Newsletter editor
    • Mike Cross – Treasurer/Membership secretary
    • Richard West – Journal and Newsletter production
    • Mike Linley – Librarian
  6. Honorary positions accepted by John E. Cooper, BVSc, DTVM, MRCVS, Oliphant F. Jackson, PhD, MRCVS and Hugh Love Jones, BVSc, MRCVS as veterinary advisers to the British Chelonia Group.


It was emphasised that the BCG was not a society and there would be no Annual General Meeting, but members would be free to put forward their views at any time.

The ‘British Chelonia Group’ Newsletter No.9 of April 1978 reported the changes to the organisation. Diane Tottle reminded members about weight and measurements of tortoises after hibernation for Dr Jackson, and Anna Freeman suggested including extracts from Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selbourne in the Newsletter.

The first meeting of the British Chelonia Group (hereafter BCG) was held in April 1978. It was generally agreed by everyone present that the BCG should continue in its present form, i.e. not a society and no AGM. In a Newsletter, the BCG committee outlined a Policy Statement concerning the trade in commonly imported species of terrestrial tortoises, i.e. Testudo graeca, the Spur-thighed tortoise and T. hermanni, Hermann’s tortoise, under the following headings:

  1. The unknown effect of populations in the wild.
  2. The way in which the animals are transported.
  3. The high mortality rate during the first year of captivity.
  4. The possible health risk.

Members’ views on the Policy Statement were requested by the committee and reported in the next Newsletter. The response to a request for members to stand for committee duties was NIL. Some things never change!

In December 1978 the first issue of Testudo was published, with articles by Oliphant F. Jackson, Peter Holt, MRCVS, Eve and Roy Blake, Barbara Short, Peter A.W.Bennett, FZS and Jon Coote.

The BCG membership list of February 1979 shows a total of 131 members, including W.S.Bailey, Joe Blossom, Miss M.W.Brancker, OBE, MRCVS, Joan Meadowcroft, Pat Hibberd, Pat Evans, Pat Murray, Nick Oliff, Peter Holt, MRCVS, Dr R.N.Smith, Marjorie White and Wincey Willis who were active members over the next few years. By this time, regular committee meetings were being held, still in the Bristol area, usually in the back room of a public house within convenient travelling distance of the committee members. Because of the increased workload during his PhD studies, Mike Linley was obliged to resign as Librarian, and at the March committee meeting George Wallace was confirmed in this post. There were no changes in the other committee members for 1979-80. Mike Linley was subsequently involved in making nature films and was involved with Anglia Television as a producer of their ‘Survival’ series. Joe Blossom, who was employed at the Slimbridge Wildfowl Trust, is the artist whose pen drawing of a Testudo hermanni forms the logo of the BCG (the copyright of which he assigned to the group), hence the JB below the drawing.

The BCG year ran from April to March and the April Newsletter included reports from the Chairman and Treasurer for 1978-79. The Treasurer noted that only donations (three times the subscriptions) kept the group solvent, so the committee decided an increase in the subscription to £2 for 1979-80 was necessary. Testudo Volume 1 No.2 was published in April 1979.

In September the BCG committee confirmed that the BCG would remain a group and not become a society, and agreed that in no way would the BCG become affiliated to any other society. It was also agreed for meetings to be held in different parts of the country, provided a local member could arrange and possibly chair the meeting. Concern was expressed over the need for a larger committee to cope with the workload, and the probable difficulty of recruiting members to the committee.

Meetings outside Bristol

The first BCG meeting away from the Bristol area was held in October 1979 at Surbiton, Surrey. It was held in a hired hall, attended by over 50 people including more than 20 Group members, and chaired by Nick Oliff. A film ‘The Year of the Tortoise’ featuring Pat Evans and her collection showed the yearly cycle of Testudo graeca from hibernation to hibernation, including mating, egg-laying and hatching, Pat being one of the very few people then successfully breeding tortoises. The need for regional meetings was agreed, as this was the first meeting that most members had been able to attend.

Publication exchanges were now taking place in the Library with the following organisations: The International (IHS), Yorkshire (YHS) and South West (SWHS) Herpetological Societies and the Association for the Study of Reptiles and Amphibians (ASRA).

In the January 1980 Newsletter, Derek Foxwell announced his retirement as BCG Chairman, after four years in the post, to take effect in March, the new Chairman to be elected from the committee on an annual basis. The committee pleaded for more people to help with the running of the BCG, the existing committee members doing far too much work, or face the alternative of disbanding the group. This was the first of a number of crises to affect the group in the ensuing years. Nick Oliff proposed a Species Register to provide a central source of information for group members.

By February there was an excellent response from members to form a larger committee. It was agreed that it would be better to publish one larger Journal per year than two smaller issues. Peter Holt was invited to become an Honorary Veterinary Adviser and John Cooper to be Honorary Veterinary Pathologist. The March 1980 Newsletter listed the enlarged committee, increased from five to eleven members. The new posts were Conservation, Meeting Content Organiser and Fund Raising. Richard West had resigned from the committee, and the Treasurer explained how the generosity of various members, in particular Richard and Ann West in printing the Newsletter and Journal, had allowed a very small subscription, but that this would have to increase to £3.50 to cover current running costs.

Increasing costs

Although isolated requests from members had been printed in previous Newsletters, for the first time, in the May Newsletter, there was a heading ‘Sales/Exchanges etc.’ which covered such requests. A conservation donation of £50 from ‘Friends of the Earth’ via Maggie Hall, an early BCG member, was to be used to provide ‘Care Sheets’ for the Veterinary Advisers, to be given to other veterinarians.

In September, a crisis arose concerning the cost of producing Testudo Volume 1 No.3, which was a large issue, but justified the decision to produce one Testudo per year instead of two. An Extraordinary General Meeting of the committee was arranged for October to discuss the problem of BCG finances, with particular reference to the production of the Newsletter and Journal. Unfortunately, differences of opinion and attitude at this meeting resulted in the decision by Derek Foxwell to resign from the committee, but to remain a BCG member and where possible to contribute to the functions and publications of the group.

There was now insufficient funding remaining to pay for professional printing of the Newsletter as provided by Jon Richards, who had taken this over from Richard West. George Wallace volunteered to have the Newsletter photocopied at his place of work at cost, i.e. for one penny per double-sided sheet (A4 for Newsletter and Journal at that time), thus enabling the Newsletter to be published at reduced cost.

A preliminary report from Dr Oliphant Jackson regarding a method of assessing the health of European and North African tortoises was published in the first Testudo in 1978, and this became known as the ‘Jackson Ratio’. A more comprehensive article, ‘The Results of Weights and Measurements of Healthy and Sick Tortoises’ was published in Testudo Volume 1 No.3, and this became the basis of subsequent pre- and post-hibernation ‘Weigh-ins’ by the BCG.

The end of the 1980-81 BCG year saw the resignations from the committee for personal reasons of Jon Coote, Nick Oliff and Wincey Willis, an altogether turbulent year but one in which membership increased to 180.

New faces on the Committee

The 1981-82 year started with six committee members in post and two non-committee roles, with Derek Foxwell as Veterinary Liaison and Pat Murray to take over the stock register. However, by August, there were changes to the committee and other posts. Derek Foxwell resigned and was replaced by Rob Harper, BVMS, MRCVS as Veterinary Liaison; Richard Adlam resigned as Newsletter Editor and Richard West rejoined the committee in this post; and Peter Holt was unable to continue as Veterinary Adviser. Larry Kragh took the post of Conservation and Fiona McGrattan agreed to answer all correspondence, on of the time-consuming tasks affecting all committee members. To simplify correspondence, the production of Care Sheets was to be urgently pursued and Dot Selman would be responsible for handling these when available.

The Treasurer’s report for 1980-81 showed a loss over income of £292 which reduced the initial balance of £362 for the year ending April 1980 to £70. An increase in membership fees and fund raising were necessary to redeem the situation.

The D.O.E. and tortoise imports

In December 1981, in reply to the BCG Conservation Officer concerning the tortoise trade, the D.O.E. stated the voluntary limit of 100,000 tortoises had not been exceeded, and although the size limit was 4 inches in length, insufficient selectivity meant that baby tortoises were imported. The D.O.E. were to write to traders to ensure compliance. More on the trade followed in February 1982 (Newsletter No.31) in an article by Fiona McGrattan, ‘Importation of Mediterranean Tortoises’; this stated the fact that in 1982 anyone purchasing an imported tortoise must sign a form issued by the D.O.E. making the buyer liable to a fine of up to £400 if he or she does not comply with certain principles of husbandry for the animal!

The work of the Committee 1982

The fourth issue of the Journal had been delayed by lack of material and problems of production and cost, but by the beginning of 1982 it was agreed that it should be produced without delay, George Wallace having volunteered to have it printed at his place of work. Testudo Volume 2 No.1 was published in April 1982 and produced at a cost of just under £1 each. 400 were printed in the A5 format to allow for increasing membership and distribution via exchanges with other herpetological organisations.

The BCG subscription form for 1982-83 introduced a Contributing Membership, at £6, higher than the regular rate of £3.50, in order to provide extra funds for conservation projects. In May 1982 Diane Tottle expressed the wish to stand down as Chairman as she could not devote sufficient time to the post, and in June Peter Holt became Chairman. Again, a larger committee was proposed to reduce workloads.

The August Newsletter expressed the Editor’s fears, mentioned in an earlier Newsletter, regarding the fate of Red-eared terrapins and the problems of finding suitable homes for them.

Dr Edward Elkan was a pioneer in the study of diseases of lower vertebrates and an internationally recognised authority on the subject. In September a meeting was organised by the British Herpetological Society in his honour, and to mark the occasion Dr Elkan was offered honorary membership of the BCG; he honoured the group by accepting.

At October’s committee meeting a merger of the BCG with ASRA, as suggested by Keith Lawrence on behalf of ASRA, was discussed. As previously, when a merger with any other herpetological group was proposed, it was rejected unanimously by the committee.

Earlier in 1982, the idea of an all-day meeting for members of the BCG and interested parties had been suggested. In November, the date of 12th March 1983 was confirmed for the Special Annual Meeting (Chelonia Symposium) to be run in conjunction with the Extra-mural Department of the University of Bristol.

At this stage in the development of the BCG the Library was exchanging correspondence and publications with a number of overseas herpetological and chelonia organisations and individuals, and more were subsequently added.

For the 1983-84 year it was decided to increase the subscription to £5 for regular members and £10 for contributing membership, and to give members an identifying number when subscriptions were paid.

The first Symposium 1983

The first Chelonia Symposium was held in the Department of Zoology at the University of Bristol on March 12th 1983, as arranged. The registration fee was £15, which included morning coffee, lunch and afternoon tea. The Chairman for the morning session was Dr Roger Avery. Dr R.N. Smith gave an anatomical tour through the inner working of the tortoise with the aid of excellent slides. After coffee, Dr M.R.K. Lambert of the B.H.S. presented his paper ‘Effects of the Tortoise Trade on Mediterranean Populations of Testudo graeca’. Keith Lawrence followed with a lecture ‘Survival Rates in Imported Tortoises: A Preliminary Report’. After lunch, the afternoon session was chaired by Peter Holt, who also gave his lecture ‘Diagnosis of Diseases – Clinical Examination’. Dr Oliphant Jackson followed with his paper ‘Diagnosis of Diseases – the Use and Diagnostic Value of Radiography’. After tea, Keith Lawrence returned to the stand to read John E. Cooper’s paper ‘Diagnosis of Disease – Laboratory Investigation’. An informal question and answer session ensued before the meeting was brought to a close. This first Symposium was attended by approximately 60 people – members, veterinarians and others with an interest in chelonia. A more comprehensive report was given in Newsletter No.37.

The Importation Ban 1984

Due to the efforts of various herpetological organisations, including the BCG, and individuals like Miss Kay Gray of Exmouth in seeking to ban the import and trade in Mediterranean tortoises, the announcement finally came that this trade would cease at the end of 1983.The committee stressed the future importance of the Group in the conservation and care of chelonia and emphasised the need to increase membership to secure its financial future.

The May membership list showed a total of 196 members, although this number increased as the year progressed. It was encouraging that regional meetings were being organised during the year, by Pat Hibberd in Surrey and Pat Evans in the Berkshire/Buckinghamshire area.

The August Newsletter was headed by an obituary for Dr Edward Elkan, who was an honorary member of the BCG, written by Peter Holt. The BCG donated £100 to a fund set up in Dr Elkan’s memory and to perpetuate his work.

During the year ISSN numbers had been sought and arranged for the BCG publications, 0265-5403 for the Journal and 0265-5411 for the Newsletter. The October Newsletter showed this identification for the first time and also gave the date of March 3rd for the 1984 symposium, the subject matter being ‘Chelonian Nutrition and Malnutrition’.

In summer 1982 Pat Evans made a film ‘Bred in Britain’, dealing with the subject of captive breeding of tortoises, in which was expressed the hope of second generation hatchling success. The December Newsletter No.40 reports Pat’s success in 1983 in hatching one healthy baby tortoise out of a clutch of six eggs, laid by a captive bred T.graeca. December also saw the publication of Testudo Vol.2 No.2.

The Second Chelonia Symposium

This was held in the Department of Zoology at the University of Bristol on March 3rd, 1984. The fee was £16 including refreshments and lunch. The Chairman for the morning session was Peter Holt. Dr I.R.Swingland gave his lecture ‘Dietary preferences of Free-Living Chelonia’ (details are given in Newsletter No.42). After coffee Mr K.Lawrence presented his paper ‘Problems of Maintaining Adequate Nutrition in Captive Chelonia’. Dr O.F.Jackson followed with a lecture on ‘Malnutrition in Chelonia’. After lunch the afternoon session was chaired by Dr R.N.Smith. Dr M.Coe gave his ‘Observations on the Dietary Preferences of the Giant Tortoises of Aldabra Atoll’, followed by Mr D.Hall and Dr J.Samour with ‘Problems of Maintaining Adequate Nutrition in Captive Giant Tortoises’. After tea Mr J.E.Cooper gave a lecture on ‘Poisoning in Chelonia’. A discussion and informal question and answer session followed before the proceedings were brought to a close.

A challenge and new committee volunteers

During the summer of 1984 a crisis arose in the organisation of the BCG, in that some committee members had too much work to do in their particular post or posts, and for several reasons the Newsletter publication was late. This led to complaints from some members of the group, but not necessarily offers of help to improve the situation. A similar crisis had occurred in 1980 when a threat of disbanding the BCG was made in like circumstances. (See Newsletter No.18). As a result of the crisis the Chairman, Peter Holt, was obliged to write an explanation and ultimatum in the Newsletter published in September. It was headed ‘Editorial – The Last’, in which Peter gave a detailed account of the position of the BCG organisation, some extracts of which are as follows:

  1. ‘The BCG was being run by a small group of dedicated enthusiasts, each of whom had too much to do, as the committee was too small’
  2. ‘The bottom line is this – if we do not recruit several more committee members soon, the present committee feel they can no longer function and the BCG will be terminated’.

The response to the ultimatum was encouraging, in that 20 members volunteered to be active in the committee or to help out with the work of producing the BCG literature and publications. As a result, Newsletter No.43 of November was headed by ‘Editorial – Definitely Not the Last’, together with a statement that the geographical distribution of members dictated the necessity of a committee with representation from areas other than Bristol and that the BCG should be ‘regionalised’, with each region having a chairperson responsible for organising local meetings, as already operated in two areas.

In December the committee welcomed the addition of Joanne Horne as Treasurer, Jill Martin as General Secretary and Dr June Chatfield, the group’s Scientific Adviser, to be involved in scrutinising articles for Testudo. Dr Chatfield, Curator of the Gilbert White Museum at ‘The Wakes’ in Selbourne, proposed an all-day meeting at that venue in July 1985.

In January 1985, Peter Holt stated he would be retiring from the chair and committee following the symposium in order to concentrate on his PhD studies, but would be pleased to continue organising the symposium. The committee vetoed an increase in membership subscription until the group was running in good order.

The February Newsletter listed the 11 members of the committee and in addition, the Regional Chairpersons, namely Pat Hibberd –South East, Joan Price – South West, Diana Pursall – West Midlands, Mrs J.C.Hearnshaw – East Midlands and Barbara Waller – North East. The recently published booklet ‘Taking Care of your Pet Tortoise’ by Henny Fenwick, a member since 1980, was described and recommended to any tortoise owner, however experienced. The membership list of February 1985 showed a total of 238 members.

The Third BCG symposium

This was held on March 2nd at Bristol University on the subject of ‘Chelonian Reproduction and Breeding’. The lectures and talks were as follows:

‘Anatomy of the Chelonian Male and Female Reproductive Tracts’ – Dr R.N.Smith
‘Reproductive Physiology’ – Dr R.A.Avery
‘The Egg’ – Dr R.N.Smith
‘The Captive Breeding of Tortoises’ – Mr P.W.Collins
‘The Captive Breeding of Terrapins’ – Mr and Mrs J.C.F.Sims
‘The Need for a Captive Breeding Register’ – Mr R.C.Harper.

At the committee meeting immediately following the symposium, Rob Harper was voted in as the new Chairman and Peter Holt accepted the newly created position of Honorary President. During the formative years of the BCG, some committee posts were given names which were subsequently changed or the posts were absorbed into others. Care sheets were soon to be available but there was concern that the often late publication of the Newsletter was due to the lack of material from members. The question of the Leicester Tortoise Group joining the BCG was discussed.

Newsletter No.45 was published in May, but the following month there was a complaint from the West Midlands Region concerning the failure to produce regular literature and the possibility of the formation of another organisation for the West Midlands Region unless something effective was done.

In June Richard West resigned as Newsletter Editor and June Chatfield took on the post on a temporary basis. Henny Fenwick was suggested to fill the post permanently as she was already using a word processor for her own business and could prepare camera-ready copy for the Newsletter. Distribution was a problem and Joan Price agreed to take on the job, being able to receive the copies produced by George Wallace. At this time Peter Holt queried the size of the group regarding a constitution and an AGM and the possibility of then registering as a charity.

The Gilbert White connection

Testudo Vol.2 No.3 was published in July and together with Newsletter No.46 was issued to members attending the one-day meeting at Selbourne that same month, organised by June Chatfield. The meeting was held in the Village Hall and included visiting ‘The Wakes’ (now the Gilbert White Museum) and the five acre garden and home of White’s original tortoise ‘Timothy’. In 1761, as described in ‘Gilbert White’s Year’, the dry wall of the Haha, quoted as ‘an excellent fence against the mead’ was completed, the workmanship of which cost £1.8s.10d. exclusive of casting the stones. It was interesting to stand on top of the Haha that day in July and imagine the old tortoise Timothy (Mrs Snookes’ for nearly 40 years and inherited by Gilbert White when she died in 1780), looking out from that position at the field beyond. The day’s programme included talks by June Chatfield, ‘Selbourne and the Tortoise Connection’, and ‘Tortoises in the Wild’ by David Curl of the University of Kent.

The appalling summer of 1985 brought a warning from the BCG Chairman regarding the need for a check on the Jackson Ratio of ‘free range’ tortoises before hibernation. November saw Henny Fenwick established in the post of Newsletter Editor, subsequently becoming the longest serving member in any one committee post, a job which she fills admirably up to the present day (2001).

The first Annual General Meeting

At the December committee meeting it was unanimously agreed to draw up a draft constitution and call an Annual General meeting. (How time and circumstances change decisions made in the early days of the BCG). The requirements of the Charity Commissioners were to be taken into account in a constitution to cover future prospects for charitable status. The first AGM was to be held at Selbourne in July 1986, with nominations for committee members and officers invited via the March Newsletter, and a ballot paper in the May Newsletter for voting by post. The membership list showed a total of 484 members, of which 343 were new and 141 were renewals, indicating a ‘floating’ membership. With £2,200 in the bank, the subscription could be held at £5 for 1986-87. Costings for the Newsletter and Testudo, including postage, as presented by George Wallace, were £3.18 per member for one year. Three new regional organisations had been formed, East Anglia, Berks & Bucks and North, with Chairpersons respectively Dick Hull, Alison Hartley and John Thorpe. In discussing regional organisation it was agreed that meetings should be operated to be independent of central funds, that separate subscriptions should not be charged and that no Newsletter other than the national one should be produced.

Several draft constitutions, including one from Diana Pursall of the West Midlands Region, were being discussed in February 1986, plus the need for the regional structure of the BCG to be developed, and ways to encourage groups and their members to be part of the BCG rather than independent. Membership numbers had risen to 527 and it was proposed that there should be Family Membership with a subscription rate of £7.50, covering two adults and children under 18 years.

The fourth BCG Symposium

Was held on 8th March at Bristol University. The morning Chairman was Oliphant Jackson for the session on Conservation in the Wild:
‘Chelonian Conservation Implementation in Southern France’ – David Stubbs.
‘Status and Distribution of Central and South American Species’ – Paul Walker.

The afternoon Chairman was Mary Brancker for the session on Conservation in Captivity:
‘Was a ban on importation of Mediterranean species necessary on conservation grounds?’ – Yes! Peter Holt/Keith Lawrence - No! John Pickett.
‘The Terrapin Trade’ – Paul Vodden.

Over 60 people, members and others, attended this symposium.

In May the committee reported the superb response of members to the ‘Operation Tortoise’ appeal, a four-year global survey of terrestrial chelonia, which had allowed a £500 donation to be sent to Dr Ian Swingland, director of the action plan. That same month, the Chairman, Rob Harper, who had indicated the previous year that he may have to resign due to pressure of work, did resign from the chair. Concern was expressed over the unusually high prices asked for tortoises, which would encourage stealing. Membership had risen to 607. Wg. Cdr . R.P.Langton reported that Miss K.A.Gray of Exmouth, author of ‘Understand Your Tortoise’, had to take up residence in a rest home after a fall and hip replacement; failing eyesight had also brought about an inability to deal with correspondence, so contact could be made through him.


Was the venue for the first AGM of the BCG on 19th July 1986. The morning session began with a lecture by Dr Michael Lambert of the BHS who spoke on ‘The Natural Bioclimatic Range and the Growth of some Home-bred Mediterranean tortoises in Northern Europe: Implications for Conservation Farming’. In the afternoon George Wallace spoke on his experiences with tortoises in the wild in Yugoslavia, Corfu and Minorca. Following afternoon tea the AGM took place, chaired by Peter Holt (President) in the absence of the Chairman, who had previously resigned. The report of the AGM shows that the Membership Secretary, Treasurer, Newsletter Editor and Testudo Editor gave accounts of their activities on behalf of the BCG, and Peter Holt summed up by outlining the growth of the group to the nationwide body it had now become, with autonomous regions making up the BCG. As a consequence, a constitution was needed to give members a say in the running of the group. Nominations were accepted for committee members and Chairman and none of the existing incumbents was contested. Of the vacant posts of Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Stock-list Secretary and Public Relations Officer, Pauline Christian and Angela Whitbread volunteered and were accepted for the last two posts, with Pat Murray as Vice-Chairman and Diana Pursall as Vice-Chairman the following year. Dr Richard Smith and Dr Roger Avery, who had been suggested for Chairman, were to be offered the position. Over 80 members attended the meeting.

In September, a copy of the BCG constitution was included with Newsletter No.53, being the result of discussion of several drafts in committee. As established in the formative years of the organisation, it was never intended that the group should evolve into a ‘professional’ society with scientific leanings, but embrace all individuals who were interested in the welfare of chelonia, hence the retention of the name ‘Group’. Members were spread widely throughout the country and a postal district map produced in October showed that only three districts in England and Wales had no members at the end of that month, out of a total membership of 715.

A problem arose in that the two people nominated at the AGM for the position of chairman declined the post. As the constitution required the membership to elect committee members, including the chairman, it was necessary to seek nominations for chairman and organise an early EGM. These proposals were outlined in the November Newsletter, the meeting to take place at Regents Park Zoological Gardens in February. Although the constitution was generally well received by the membership, amendments and improvements needed to be made to ensure the smooth running of the group.

It was reported that of the tortoises owned by group members, there were 643 Spur-thighed adults and 260 hatchlings, 341 Hermanns adults and 63 hatchlings and 11 Marginated adults plus 40 hatchlings. Testudo Vol.2 No.4 was published in November.

By the end of the year there had been no nominations for chairman, so the EGM scheduled for February was cancelled. It was hoped that by the time of the AGM later in the year nominations would be received and a chairman voted into that post; meanwhile the chair would be in the capable hands of the Vice Chairman Pat Murray. In January 1987, The Newsletter announced that the BCG year was to be changed from the existing April - March year to January – December, starting in 1988. This would avoid confusion with overlapping years, and the 1987 subscription was reduced to compensate.

The fifth BCG Symposium was held on 14th March at Bristol University under the general heading ‘Improving the Conservation and Welfare of Chelonians’. The morning chairman was Paul Vodden and the first talk was ‘Improving Conservation and Welfare in the Wild’, by Bill Jordan, followed by ‘Improving Welfare and Conservation in Captivity’ by Andy Highfield. There was then an open discussion on what the BCG should be doing to improve the conservation and welfare of chelonians.

The afternoon chairman was Dr Richard Smith who introduced John Cooper and Dr P.Zwart for the lecture ‘Advances in the Veterinary Care of Chelonians over the Past 20 years’, to be followed by Rob Harper with ‘The Next 20 years – the Problems that Remain and Future Developments’.

The Kay Gray bequest

It was with regret that the BCG learned of the death of Miss Kay Gray on 4th July 1987 at the age of 92, tortoises and the BCG having lost their greatest advocate in person, but not in spirit, truly a ‘Friend of Tortoises’. Miss Gray kindly remembered the BCG in her will.

The second AGM of the BCG was held in the meeting room of the Regents Park Zoological Gardens, London, on 25th July. As two nominations had been received for chairman, namely Diana Pursall and George Tarrant, scrutineers were appointed to oversee the postal ballot. Then followed reports from the committee members and regional chairpersons. Since the original constitution was adopted at the AGM in 1986, several changes were suggested and these were agreed and adopted at the meeting. Pat Murray, Membership Secretary, and Jill Martin, General Secretary were standing down from their posts, but Pat Murray remained as Vice-Chairman and Chairman of the Bucks/Berks area. Peter Pook and Valerie Thorn were nominated for Membership Secretary, but this time-consuming job was split between renewals and new applicants and both Peter and Valerie were elected. No nominations for General Secretary were forthcoming. The ballot for Chairman was closely run, the two candidates being separated by 3 votes out of 281, Diana Pursall being elected. All other committee members were elected to their posts. Special thanks were given to Dr June Chatfield who expertly chaired the entire meeting. In the afternoon a presentation of £426 was made to Mr Maithra Rodrigo of the ‘People’s Trust for Endangered Species’ for their turtle reserve appeal. This was followed by the BCG President, Peter Holt, giving an illustrated talk on ‘Comparative Aspects of Veterinary Care of Chelonians and Other Reptiles’. Members were then free to visit the Zoo and in particular the Reptile House.

The business of the BCG was not to run smoothly for long, however. At the August committee meeting the newly elected Chairman, Diana Pursall, announced her intention to resign. It was fortunate that the constitution had allowed for inter-AGM vacancies on the committee, for in September and October, several vacant positions were filled in an acting capacity: Dr Oliphant Jackson as Chairman, Diana Desmond as Secretary, Penny Haynes for Stock Register, George Tarrant as Administrative Consultant, Martin Lawton/Lynne Stokes for Veterinary Liaison and Martin Brookes as Chairman Midlands Region.

Preparing for Charity Status

George Tarrant’s immediate task was to produce evidence that the BCG was a charity ‘as defined in law’ in order to proceed with registration with the Charity Commission. The large bequest in her will of approximately £30,000 from Miss Kay Gray also gave urgency for the BCG to seek charitable status. Peter Holt suggested that an annual Kay Gray award should be established for an outstanding contribution to chelonia in any field of activity.

Testudo Vol.2 No.5 was published in November, and the year ended on a more upbeat note as all posts in the committee were filled and the balance sheet showed a healthy surplus. The amount of the subscription would need to be considered however, as there had been no increase for several years.

In January 1988 the Leicester Tortoise Society approached the BCG with a view to joining as a new region. The society, in existence for four years, had 54 members who felt they could benefit from the knowledge within the BCG, from a wider range of speakers and a more informative newsletter. The March/April Newsletter No.62 illustrated what benefits the Leicester Tortoise Society wished to achieve, and included articles on the Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos, the Desert tortoises of the Mojave Desert, the contribution to a tortoise sanctuary in Papua New Guinea, reports from the BCG regions, members’ letters and small advertisements. The Leicester members joined the BCG in March.

The sixth BCG Symposium was held on March 5th at Bristol University under the heading ‘Update of Projects and Research on Chelonian Conservation and Welfare’. Dr Richard Smith chaired the morning session, which began with ‘Perhaps the Ban was a Good Idea’ by Keith Lawrence, followed by ‘Chelonian Conservation in Thessalonika’ by Adrian Hailey. The afternoon session was chaired by Dr Oliphant Jackson who introduced Bill Jordan and Maithra Rodrigo to give a progress report on ‘An Island for Turtles’, a turtle sanctuary to which the BCG had contributed. Roger Meek followed with a talk on ‘Thermoregulatory Behaviour in Wild Yugoslavian Testudo hermanni’, and the last speaker was Charles Bostock describing ‘Carapaced 87’, an expedition to search for the terrapin Pseudemys malonei in the Bahamas.

The Child-Beale Wildlife Trust in Berkshire was the venue for the third AGM of the BCG held on 16th July 1988. Scrutineers were appointed for the postal ballot, followed by reports from the committee members and regional chairpersons. The Chairman, Dr Jackson, reported that ‘Information on the Diseases and Treatment of Tortoises and Terrapins’ for members of the veterinary profession in general practice, which had been in preparation for some time and became known as the ‘Vet Package’, was now available for distribution to the 350 or more vets who had requested a copy. The Treasurer asked the membership to agree to an increase in the basic subscription to £7 and this was approved. All the committee members, including those in an acting capacity, were voted into their posts in the postal ballot. Peter Holt stood down as President at the meeting. Since joining the BCG as a member in 1979, as Veterinary Adviser in 1980 and following this post, as Chairman and then President, Peter had been a tower of strength and contributed in no small measure to the continuation of the BCG. It was proposed and carried that Peter be given Honorary Membership. George Wallace, a founder member, also stood down as Librarian and Graham Underdown was elected by the members present to fill that post. There had not been a Conservation Officer on the Committee since 1982 and this omission was rectified by the members electing Wg Cdr Bob Langton for the post. After the official business was over and after lunch, Dr Ian Swingland gave an illustrated talk entitled ‘Conservation and Sex in Chelonia’.

In August, the BCG lost a staunch supporter in Dr Richard Smith, or Dick Smith as he was known, who died after a short illness. Dick was a great chelonian enthusiast and an outstanding teacher and communicator at Bristol University and other veterinary schools. Tributes were paid to him by Peter Holt and Pat Evans in the September/October issue of the Newsletter.

Expanding activities

The ‘News from the Regions’ in the Newsletter showed the extent of the meetings taking place in the regions, without which the BCG would have been a much less viable organisation. The regional members were also active in promoting the BCG by attendance at various shows throughout the country.

The ‘Veterinary Corner’, in which the Veterinary Liaison Officers gave answers to members’ questions and advice on chelonian welfare, was a popular feature in the Newsletter. In November Pat Murray, who had been a member for 10 years and a stalwart of the BCG, tendered her resignation as Vice-Chairman as she and her family were moving to Canada. June Chatfield was co-opted as Vice-Chairman by unanimous agreement in committee. Pat’s other post as Regional Chairman for Bucks/Berks was to continue under Richard Barnes.

Each year the BCG had an annual appeal via the subscription form and the appeal for 1989 was to assist three conservation centres in Europe: Majorca in Spain – ‘Son Chiffre De Baix’, the Var in France – ‘Le Village Des Tortues’ and Tuscany in Italy – ‘Centro Tartarughe Carapax’. The tradition of contributing funds to chelonian conservation and research projects worldwide was now becoming well established.

In February, due to family commitments and illness, Joanne Horn resigned as Treasurer and George Tarrant was co-opted by the committee as Acting Treasurer until the AGM. The PRO post was to become vacant as Angela Whitbread decided not to stand for re-election at the forthcoming AGM because of work demands.

Peter Holt had organised the BCG Symposia since the first one in 1983, but the 1989 course director was Dr Peter Pook. For the seventh symposium at Bristol University on 18th March, the theme was ‘Towards a Better Understanding of Chelonia’ with the emphasis on ‘Feeding’. The morning session was chaired by Dr Oliphant Jackson who introduced Professor A.d’A.Bellairs to give the Dr R.N. Smith Memorial Lecture entitled ‘Anatomical and Physiological Adaptations in Reptiles’. This was followed by Dr June Chatfield with ‘Basic Nutrition and General Feeding Patterns of Aquatic and Land Chelonia’ and then Mr D.Spraat gave a talk on ‘Feeding in the Wild’. The afternoon session was chaired by Miss Mary Brancker and began with Henny Fenwick giving a talk on ‘Feeding in Captivity’, followed by Martin Lawton with ‘Health Problems Associated with Feeding’. The large number of 137 people attended this symposium.

The March/April Newsletter was the last one produced in the A4 separate sheet format, future Newsletters redesigned by Valerie Thorn being in A5 format. Following discussions with the Official Custodian for Charities, as part of the procedure for the registration of the BCG as an official educational charity, a more formal wording was to be adopted in the Constitution. The changes proposed were recommended by the committee for approval by members at the AGM, and published in Newsletter No.69.

The Northampton Natural History Society’s hall was the venue for the fourth AGM of the BCG on 17th June 1989. After scrutineers for the postal ballot were appointed, committee members and regional chairpersons gave their reports. The Chairman explained that because of concern over the use of material from the Newsletter in other publications, copyright had been established for not only the Newsletter and Testudo but also for all the information in BCG Care Sheets. In a discussion on membership subscriptions, having agreed last year that the fee might go up in line with inflation, it was decided that a figure of £7.50 for regular membership would be considered by the committee for 1990. Dr Pook reported that for 1988, the total number of paid-up members was 1,176, which was an increase of 461 since 1986. The changes to the constitution mentioned previously were adopted by the Membership, allowing George Tarrant to proceed with the application for charity status.

The active interest of the BCG in chelonia was described by the Conservation Officer, who had established links with numerous individuals and organisations concerned with conservation projects at home and abroad and encouraged members to support some of the projects. The Conservation Officer had also taken the lead in drafting the conditions for the Kay Gray Memorial Award and in procuring the trophy. The number of members voting in the postal ballot was disappointingly low but all the committee members in post were accepted to serve a further 12 months. Four awards of Honorary Membership were made to Dr Peter Holt, Dr Ian Swingland, Mr John Cooper and Mr Rob Harper for their work with chelonia and the BCG. After the lunch break Dr Oliphant Jackson gave an illustrated talk on 'Reptiles and Chelonia of my Acquaintance'.

Charity status achieved

The September/October Newsletter No.71 announced that the application to become an officially registered charity had been accepted by the Charity Commissioners with a Registration No. 801818. The Editor noted that at the August committee meeting a vote of thanks on behalf of the Committee and Membership was made to George Tarrant for all his hard work in connection with obtaining charity status for the group. Also in the Newsletter were the details and purpose of the Kay Gray Memorial Award, together with the conditions to be observed regarding nominations. Conservation Corner had now become a prominent feature in the Newsletter and in this issue the Carapax Project in Italy was profiled.

For some time now, various goods such as mugs, badges and tea-towels depicting the BCG motif had been available for sale to members and others as a way of advertising the group and boosting funds. The cost of purchasing these items is shown in the end of year Financial Report, which also showed the total BCG funds as £31,430, nearly 85% of which was in an investment account set aside for special purposes from the legacy of Miss Kay Gray.

The Eighth BCG Symposium was held on 17th March 1990, again with the theme ‘Towards a Better Understanding of Chelonia’ but with the emphasis on ‘Caring for Sick Chelonians’. The venue was Bristol University as usual and the morning chairman was Dr Peter Pook who introduced Dr Roger Avery with the Dr R.N.Smith Memorial Lecture, ‘Parasites and Biology of Chelonians’. The next lecture, given by Miss Lynne Stoakes, was in two parts: ‘Diseases caused by Trauma’ and ‘Chelonian Metabolism and Incorrect Diet’. Dr June Chatfield chaired the afternoon session, introducing David Stubbs to talk about ‘The French Tortoise Village – Caring for Chelonia in their Natural Environment’, followed by Henny Fenwick with ‘Care and Management of Sick Chelonians’.

The first Kay Gray Award

By popular choice, the 1990 AGM was held at Regents Park Zoo, London, but at an earlier date than previous years, on 28th April. Proceedings were as usual. ‘Weigh-ins’ both before and after hibernation were being held at various locations by the Regions, so an information sheet showing guidelines for the correct procedures to be observed at these gatherings was produced by Dr June Chatfield. In a discussion on the subscription level for 1991, concern was expressed over the possible loss of membership from subscription increases, although it was pointed out that the Membership received good value for money. The meeting eventually voted for an inflationary increase to bring the 1990 subscription up to £8. Dr Pook reported that the membership had doubled in the past three years and at the end of 1989 there were 1,467 members. The postal ballot confirmed the incumbent committee members in their posts. There were no nominations for Librarian, Graham Underdown having stood down earlier in the year due to a change in employment. The various Regional Chairmen were elected.

The Chairman, Dr Oliphant Jackson, then spoke about the Kay Gray Award which had been set up due to the efforts of Wg. Cdr. Bob Langton. He gave a resume of the life of Kay Gray and of her interest and love of nature and animals. Her first tortoise, bought for sixpence, had inspired her to ‘take up the cudgels’ on behalf of tortoises in educating the public, improving their conditions of import and sale and eventually to abolish the trade altogether. Pat Evans nominated the award winner and by unanimous agreement of the judges, it was for Dr Richard (Dick) Smith who had died so tragically in 1988. The trophy was received by his widow, Mrs Marjorie Smith.

By September, the BCG Library was moribund, and with no Librarian volunteer coming forward, George Wallace was approached to see if he could ‘bring it back to life’. It was agreed that the Librarian’s post, for the period of rescue and until an official Librarian could be appointed, would be in an acting, non-official capacity, although reporting to the committee. After some weeks and considerable reorganisation, the Library was functioning normally again, but it was to be three years before a member was recruited for the post.


At the end of 1990, BCG membership had risen to 1,670 and the finances were sound, with a surplus over expenditure of £7,508 and total funds of £38,938. Over the years, the group had survived a number of crises – financial, of committee recruitment and of personalities - and in that it was perhaps no different from any other growing organisation. The group had progressed from local informal meetings to a national group with a network of regions. Annual symposia had brought members in touch with researchers, conservationists and interested veterinary surgeons, and strong links had been forged with conservation projects around the world via the annual appeals. Although some of the pioneering leaders have now died, including Dr Jackson, Dr Smith and Marjorie White, a number of the early committee and ordinary members are still active within the BCG. Whatever problems and differences of opinion there may have been along the way during the author’s years on the committee, the overriding concern was for the welfare of chelonia.


Testudo Volume Five Number Three 2001