The ARC led Snakes in the Heather project is now in its second year, and what a first year it has been! If you aren’t aware of the project yet, Snakes in the Heather is a large-scale, partnership project to conserve Britain’s rarest reptile, the smooth snake, throughout its range in southern England.

Two project officers have been in post since August 2019. Ben Limburn, the Citizen Science and Project Operations Officer, is leading the reptile survey and monitoring side of the project and working with ARC staff and external partners to ensure data is used to inform conservation. Owain Masters, the Public Engagement and Education Officer, is leading the delivery of an education and events programme to raise awareness of threats to reptiles and heathland habitat and gain support for their conservation.

The first few months of the project were very busy setting up systems to manage the project, communicating with project partners and beginning the education and events programmes. However, business as usual came to a halt in March of this year as the COVID 19 pandemic altered our ability to deliver the work as planned. With face-to-face training, meetings and outreach off the table we got creative!

Ben has been working hard behind the scenes developing a new recording platform for wildlife surveys. We have been testing it this year and look forward to sharing it with survey volunteers in the coming years. He has also been working with key partners and volunteers, doing survey site set up and some socially distanced training for some of ARC's existing volunteers. Owain has created lots of digital education content including worksheets, blogs and videos. He has also delivered lessons about reptiles to schools, university and community groups via Zoom and Microsoft Teams… platforms which many of you will be very familiar with after this year!

We have led a number of outdoor events for small groups outside of the full lockdown periods which include some Dragon Finding Quests (guided walks!) and, more recently, our Halloween on the Heath events. The Halloween on the Heath events dispelled common myths about heathland wildlife including spiders, beetles, frogs, snakes and lizards. We have also been working with our fantastic volunteer and field teams in Dorset and the Weald to manage heathland habitat for the smooth snake. (These Habitat Task days have been carefully planned to ensure they are COVID safe and there will be more opportunities to get involved next year).

Over the next few weeks we will continue our behind the scenes work to create the resources necessary for delivery of the project over the coming years. We do not yet know how creative we will need to be in 2021 but will endeavour to keep both our survey and monitoring and outreach programmes running whilst being mindful or staff, volunteer and public safety. We will be updating our website and events pages regularly so please visit our Snakes in the Heather project page to hear about progress and up-to-date plans.

Meantime, if you have any questions about the project or would like to book digital outreach do not hesitate to email Ben or Owain on [email protected] or [email protected] respectively.

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.