Rebecca Dowman is a writer and editor. She writes professionally for companies and for pleasure with 26, a writers’ collective. Her ‘centena’ (a 100 word poem, ending and staring with the same three words) about smooth snakes, Gone, before we knew it, is part of #26Wild, a creative collaboration between 26 and The Wildlife Trusts.

When I signed up for #26Wild, a writing project about more than 50 endangered species, I figured I’d find out more about animals. What I didn’t realise was that I would also find out more about the people and organisations that fight to protect them.

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) played a pivotal role in helping me get to know ‘my’ endangered species – the smooth snake. I’m ashamed to admit that before I was assigned to write about this native constrictor, I’d never even heard of it – or ARC.

Ben Limburn, ARC’s Snakes in the Heather – Citizen Science & Project Operations Officer, was indefatigable in answering my (many) questions, sharing useful press releases, and checking my facts. He also told me about ARC’s Snakes in the Heather research programme, which looks set to yield invaluable insights into smooth snake habits and habitats and so help us to conserve them.

Prejudice, be it about people or animals, is so often down to ignorance. All of the information and insight that Ben provided helped me evolve from being somewhat ophidiophobic to a point where I now really appreciate the beauty, delicacy and style of the elusive smooth snake.

Smooth snakes, like too many of our other native creatures are under great pressure. In the smooth snakes’ case, this is largely due to the destruction of their lowland heathland homes by farming and development. Although no-one should underestimate this threat – or, of course, that of climate change – we are very fortunate that passionate organisations like ARC, and The Wildlife Trusts, are fighting their corner.

But conservation groups need our help. Critical mass is required to turn back the tide of centuries of disregard for wildlife. Hopefully, the #26Wild project will serve as a rallying cry. All the pieces are being collected in a book (which is raising money for The Wildlife Trusts), and are also being published and shared widely on social media. Let’s hope this exposure recruits more people to the cause. We have no time to waste.

Rebecca’s centena and a supporting background article are online at #26Wild on Facebook or Twitter to follow the project. 

Gone, before we knew it

And it disappears, sliding swiftlybeneath the mossy log. Its slim body coiled tight, its round amber eyes peering out; assessing the risk.

And when it emerges, to weave through heather, its Harris Tweed coat proves cunning camouflage. So when the intent lizard sashays by, it barely sees the mouth that snatches it home.

Living undercover, the softly, softly snake, keeping its secrets close.

Yet we can still kill what we can’t count or catalogue. With hate and housing and fire and farming, we’ve driven this creature from its heathland habitat. Just a few more human errors and it disappears.