Snakes in the Heather Public Engagement and Education Officer, Owain Masters shares how the team is making plans to ensure a positive lasting legacy for this ground-breaking project

We are now into the last survey season for the Snakes in the Heather project and a lot of what we are doing is paving the way for the project’s legacy.

Firstly, our Citizen Science programme continues, with the reptile surveyors collecting data this summer providing the last set of species data before we put together our ‘stage 2 models’. The stage 2 models will use the latest available data, collated via our volunteers, project partner staff and via data sharing, to map the current range of smooth snakes as we know it, and also to map all suitable possible smooth snake habitat in southern England. We are using data from across the Wealden Heaths, the New Forest, Dorset and beyond to form these models. The models are then used to inform heathland management, including helping to find areas of degraded heath to bring back to a good condition to increase the range of UK reptiles and to plan future reintroductions across the smooth snake’s range.

Secondly, we have just hosted the ‘Managing Heathland Habitat for Reptiles; Knowledge exchange workshop’. Over 20 organisations, including statutory agencies, local councils, NGOs and private landowners were represented, with a geographic coverage of north Hampshire, the New Forest, Surrey and Berkshire. The workshop was organised to look at the current and emerging issues for heathland management, and think about these in the context of reptile conservation. The nature conservation sector is facing a lot of pressures, and even within the sector there are different priorities. So it was great to see so much lively discussion, debate and idea sharing.

Thirdly, we are starting to collate the information we have gathered throughout the project to write smooth snake conservation guidance. This guidance will draw on the stage 2 model, the surveys, the latest available research, information gathered during the workshop as well as additional expert advice and more to create a suite of tools to help land managers make sure smooth snakes are considered among the many other priorities for heathland management. We will make this guidance available as a key output of the project.

Fourthly; our outreach work continues, including a piece on BBC Breakfast celebrating the anniversary of our smooth snake reintroduction project. We also assisted with the organisation of a reptile ramble feature on Springwatch. We are into our summer events, which started with Heath Week and continue with our regular presence at the New Forest Reptile Centre every Wednesday of the school summer holidays. We are there to talk to the public about the reptiles of the UK, most of which can be found naturally only a short distance from the centre, in the habitats of the New Forest national park. 

And finally; we are arranging that both the Citizen Science and Outreach sides of the project continue beyond the lifetime of Snakes in the Heather itself, which draws to an end next February. The surveys will continue as part of the National Reptile Survey programme, helping to form a national picture of the health of the UK’s reptile species. The outreach work will continue via future projects and through ARC’s attendance at key events for reaching communities living adjacent to reptile habitat.

To summarise, we continue to work hard on our mission to conserve the smooth snake for future generations. If you would like to find out more about our aims please visit the Snakes in the Heather project page.

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