ARC with partners, Forestry England have this week hosted a group Reptile Survey in the New Forest National Park, joined by distinguished guest, the Rt Hon Desmond Swayne 

Native amphibians and reptiles are a high priority for conservation action, which includes raising awareness of their needs and how to protect them. Reptiles are a widely misunderstood species, with common public phobias associated with each. This impacts their conservation because so few people know about the habitat requirements of the species and the many charms associated with them. They are however a key barometer for the health our native wildlife and natural spaces.

Sir Desmond, MP for New Forest West, has long been recognized as a passionate advocate for wildlife conservation, notably as the Westminster Species Champion for the smooth snake, a role he has diligently undertaken for over 5 years. 

Over four years ARC has been delivering a large partnership project with the ultimate aim of improving the conservation outcomes of heathland reptiles. The project, Snakes in the Heather (SitH), is improving ecologists understanding of southern lowland heathland reptiles by training surveyors to collect records of different species and other data which will be used to help shape the management of the reptile species and their lowland heathland habitat. This lowland heathland habitat is the only habitat in the UK where all six species of reptiles live year-round, making the health of the remaining heaths critical to their survival, along with the habitats they call home.

This most recent reptile survey served as an ideal opportunity for Sir Desmond to immerse himself in the important process of native species data collection, gaining insights into its significance for supporting conservation work, including for informing policy and for making informed habitat management decisions. More significantly, the event offered an in-depth look at the collaborative efforts fostered by ARC’s SitH project, a partnership that include a wide range of partners such as Forestry England, as well as community groups.  By uniting resources and expertise, this alliance strives to safeguard not only the smooth snake but also other vital heathland wildlife species.


Sir Desmond said

What has immediately occurred to me [on taking part in the survey] is how intricate and important survey work is to preserve the habitats and the importance of the different ways they need to be managed. What I certainly was not aware of is what a wildfire might do as against prescribed burning by land managers and the importance of creating and maintaining a mixture of landscapes to maintain our wildlife. Sometimes even removing trees, which is highly controversial, is actually very important for the management of the landscape. 


ARC’s National Training and Monitoring Programme largely takes place in the spring, with surveyors then being supported to undertake surveys over the summer and autumn. To date, more than 300 volunteers have taken part. ARC provides training on the best practice approaches for setting up surveys, how to maximise the chances of finding reptiles and the reasons why surveying is important and the types of data that can be collected for different types of study, raising awareness of their needs and how to protect them.


Sir Desmond’s participation in the Group Reptile Survey underscores the essential role of political and public figures in championing environmental causes. This event embodies the spirit of collaboration and knowledge-sharing that will aims to propel the conservation of the New Forest and its precious flora and fauna. 

We see today’s group reptile survey, with staff and volunteers, as an opportunity for Sir Desmond to see first-hand how and why we collect species data, how it can be used to inform both policy and habitat management decisions. 

Said ARC CEO Dr Tony Gent. 

Throughout his tenure as the smooth snake's champion, the MP has demonstrated his commitment to the area by actively engaging with conservation partners at Forestry England’s New Forest Reptile Centre in Lyndhurst and staying informed about the latest developments and challenges, through the ARC team. His unwavering support was particularly evident in 2018 he endorsed SitH, a four-year project funded by the National Lottery, now in its legacy year.


Watch video of the visit below: