It has been a busy and productive winter for the Snakes in the Heather project. In particular, we have been working with our fantastic volunteer and field teams in Dorset and the Weald to manage heathland habitat for the smooth snake. We have cleared invasive pine and birch from various heathlands that ARC manage, and, in a spirit of collaboration, we have organised volunteer task days on sites managed by project partners.

Volunteer Task Days are tough work, but they are enormous fun, and by working with partners we make the most of our expertise, ensuring prime habitat is maintained for reptiles, whilst learning from new friends in other volunteer teams. Examples include a task day co-organised with the South Downs National Park Authority on Heyshott Common, which lies along the SDNP’s Reptile Trail. Similarly, (at the time of writing), we have an upcoming task day at Markways, a Forestry England site in the New Forest. The site is home to several reptile species, so we are keen to ensure the management of the area is sensitive to these. We have invited our friends at Hampshire and Isle of Wight Amphibian and Reptile Group to join our regular volunteers on the day.

Other project highlights from this winter include a Volunteer Taster Day organised with Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole Community Action Network (CAN). We arranged for a minibus to collect young volunteers from Boscombe town centre and bring them to Parley Common. This group had extremely varied backgrounds, each with different struggles, and the day spent on the heath proved to be very beneficial. They all got really stuck in, and, despite a couple of downpours, we all enjoyed the day enormously. Feedback was highly positive, and we will be organising another Volunteer Taster Day with this group again in May to highlight our spring/summer work.

We have started our wider outreach events, our first event at a library in an urban area of Dorset during which we highlighted the wonderful wildlife that is just a short distance away. Similarly, the Snakes in the Heather school outreach programme starts in the coming weeks.

Behind the scenes we are continuing to develop our monitoring programme for the smooth snake, and other reptiles. This involves organising how reptile surveys will be recorded and collated, and arranging meetings with SitH’s external partners to organise future training of their staff and volunteers. With recent mild weather reptiles are starting to emerge from hibernation and we are looking towards the spring. We are really looking forward to the coming months as the reptile survey season begins.

We have lots planned, so, as always, if you would like to be involved or learn more visit the Snakes in the Heather project page.

Snakes in the Heather is supported by a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

ARC also thanks the Banister Charitable Trust and Love the Forest for generous donations to the Snakes in the Heather project.