In this latest update Snakes in the Heather Public Engagement and Education Officer, Owain Masters fills us in on work the team has been doing on reptile surveys, education and events

It has been a very productive first quarter of the year for Snakes in the Heather – the ARC led project to coordinate conservation of the smooth snake across its range in the UK with support from National Lottery Heritage Fund .

Reptile Surveys:

The project officers, Ben and Owain, have been running Reptile Survey Training events for new volunteers and project partner staff. To date, the Snakes in the Heather training programme has been online but we are delighted that we have some ‘in person’ training events coming up at Avon Heath Country Park, a beautiful park home to all 6 reptile species.

Demand has been high and the Snakes in the Heather Reptile Survey Training events are all fully booked but watch this space; we will aim to add some more to our events page over the summer.

Snakes in the Heather reptile surveys take place in dry lowland heaths in the south of England and ARC’s longer-term volunteers have already been surveying for a number of weeks. They have recorded adders and all three lizard species and, with the warming weather, it won’t be long before sightings of grass snakes and then smooth snakes come in too. Alongside the reptiles, our heathlands are alive with all manner of other species in spring including ground nesting birds and early butterfly species.

Our partnership work to coordinate the surveys across the range of southern heathland continues. In addition to our regular correspondence, we have been involved in recent productive meetings with the New Forest National Park Authority and the Purbeck Heaths National Nature Reserve, each area these groups represent being vitally important areas for the smooth snake and other heathland species.

Education and Events:

Over the winter the Snakes in the Heather team have led a number of Habitat Task days with ARC volunteers. These days involve removing invasive plants, including pine trees, to keep the heather as the dominant species, thereby benefitting the vast number of species which the plants support. This year, we have added to our programme of Habitat Task Days to include Snakes in the Heather Sunday Fundays, a task day aimed at families. As well as managing the habitat, these days involve some educational games and at the March Sunday Funday we were on the lookout animals emerging from hibernation. Whilst looking we spotted lots of interesting insects and birds and a smooth newt.

We have been busy on video calls, working with schools and community groups to ensure more and more local people have learned about our heathland habitats and reptiles. Highlights include delivering lessons to over 1000 primary school aged students during ‘Science week’ and giving talks to our project partner staff and volunteers, ensuring there is a deeper understanding of how their reptile surveys and heathland management are vital to safeguarding the future of smooth snakes in the UK.

Further highlights include running a workshop at Bournemouth University in which students were tasked with putting together communications which might make people who are not reptile lovers more interested in the conservation of snakes. They came up with some good ideas including targeting lessons at schools adjacent to reptile habitat, designing projects and campaigns that showcase the amazing adaptations of snakes and their roles in the ecosystem and also creating ‘memes’ for sharing via social media.

We are looking forward to the rest of the survey season and a summer of events which will include guided walks and supporting Wild Wednesdays at the New Forest Reptile Centre. As always, if you would like to be involved or learn more please visit the Snakes in the Heather project page.

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