ARC’s Education Officer for Saving Scotland’s Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAAR), Janet Ullman describes her experiences of surveying on the Isle of Skye, over the spring and summer of 2022; with the frustrations and the joys of being a field surveyor.

At the point where everyone was planning Christmas shopping in 2021, I was getting excited about a Teams meeting where representatives from the Amphibian and Reptile Group UK, Nature Scot and my colleagues from Amphibian and Reptile Trust were discussing the plans to repeat the 1992 adder survey across Scotland. At the meeting I could not stop myself raising my hand to volunteer. I live near the Isle of Skye and one of the survey sites is the Armadale Estate on Sleat, managed by the Clan Donald’s Land Trust. I’ve known the estate for some years and I know of the breath-taking beauty of the place and of the site specified at Glean Meadhonach.

I imagined a summer of wondering the rolling moor in spring sunshine, cooling my feet in the crystal-clear burn during the summer, whilst diligently looking out for signs of adders. There is nothing like the sudden realisation that an adder lies before you, still and watchful, hunkering down among the heather or bracken. Those red eyes take in every movement as you balance on one foot trying not to breathe, reaching for your camera. One false move and that zigzag back zips out of sight.

However, the reality of adder surveying, especially in the spring and summer of 2022 was very far from the one imagined. First of all, I have to say the support I had from the Armadale estate staff was superb, their enthusiasm, help and support was second to none. We had the treat of going out the first time on the estate Argocat, we seemed to scale sheer hills with no trouble at all, with the adrenaline pumping as we also scaled those sheer hills downwards as well. The estate staff were eager to learn all they could about adders and many were extremely knowledgeable about the adders on the estate and how to balance the needs of the adder with a working landscape.

I had the joy of four brilliant volunteers and again the thought of team surveying was a huge added bonus to an imagined perfection of surveying. Sadly though, the weather of 2022 on Skye played us false. It seemed like it rained continuously from May to October. Every time we arranged to go out the weather forecast was dire, cold, wet and windy, more often than not we had to cancel. Adders are not fond of cold persistent rain and wind, and we had to mind the health and safety requirements for humans! As a result, a few months went by with no survey at all, August being particularly awful. But single adder records were logged for the surveys for April and May with a double sighting in October with only two survey months with no adders. September’s survey was curious not for a lack of adders but for four half eaten toads, found separately along the length of the path. The imagined culprit is yet to be identified, but the Otter has been muted as a key suspect.

I must say a huge thanks to the team of volunteers who gave up their time to go out, struggle up and down a very challenging path, ford burns and avoid being torn apart by thorns. Their enthusiasm, happiness of spirit and dedication made a very wet summer a joy. Thank you, Dorothy, Emma, Julia and Lindsay. Also, another big thanks to Alex, Lisa and Rhianna and the whole Armadale Estate. Let’s look forward to survey 2023 and a bit of warm weather for adders and Skye.

You can also read about Scottish National Adder Survey (SNAS) Volunteer, Brian Dalton's adventures surveying on north west Skye here.

If you would like to get involved in the Scottish National Adder Survey please contact: Dr Angela Julian, Coordinator ARG UK (email: [email protected]), and we will be delighted to welcome you to the survey team.

If you would like to find out more about the Saving Scotland’s Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAAR) project and how to get involved please visit the project page.

We are very grateful to our funders, The Helvellyn Foundation, The R S MacDonald Charitable Trust, The Bannister Charitable Trust and Thistledown Trust, who have made this project possible.