Written by Snakes in the Heather Public Engagement and Education Officer, Owain Masters. 

Updates from the National Lottery Heritage Fund supported project, Snakes in the Heather. 

Snakes in the Heather has slithered to an end!  

On behalf of the whole Snakes in the Heather (SitH) project team, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has taken part – joining our events and activities and volunteering your time through Citizen Science surveys and habitat management volunteer days. A big thank you also to the project partners and landowners for their continued support, allowing reptile surveys to be undertaken on heathland reserves across southern England, generating information to further reptile conservation in the UK. 

The project, in its current form, may be ending, but fear not! The Snakes in the Heather reptile surveys, habitat management and education work have been carefully incorporated into ARC’s ongoing programmes of work, ensuring a formidable legacy for the project. 

1.The background: why did we design a project based around the smooth snake and other heathland reptiles? 

Amphibians and reptiles are in worldwide decline. Environmental change, much of it attributed to anthropogenic activity, is having a profound effect on species’ populations. The State of Nature Report (Heyhow et al. 2016) reveals that over half (56 per cent) of UK species studied have declined since 1970, while 15 per cent (1,199 of the nearly 8,000 species assessed in the UK) are under threat of disappearing from our shores altogether.  

The smooth snake is Britain’s rarest reptile. It is elusive and rarely seen, choosing to burrow underground or hide in heather plants. Its elusive nature means that, historically, we have not had a complete understanding of its behaviour, ecological needs and status across its range. Its vulnerability is recognised by receiving full protection under UK law, making it an offence to kill, injure, disturb or trade them.  

Snakes in the Heather was designed to remedy this; coordinating standardised reptile surveys at different sites to generate data to guide conservation management, raising awareness and providing resources and guidance to encourage smooth snake conservation at a site, regional and national level. 

2.A reminder:what were the projects aims? 

The Snakes in the Heather (SitH) project took place between August 2019 and February 2024 supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Love the Forest and the Bannister Trust. The project was led by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and worked in partnership with multiple wildlife conservation organisations, site managers, landowners and individuals across southern England to help conserve the rare and elusive smooth snake and the internationally important lowland heathland habitats on which it depends. 

SitH had three key aims: 

  • To raise public awareness of the conservation needs of our reptile and heathland heritage, helping to promote better understanding to safeguard their future.

  • To promote community relationships, personal well-being and life opportunities by providing chances for people to engage as project volunteers, allowing them to gain new skills and knowledge. 

  • To develop guidance and technical support to advance the conservation and ecological resilience of the smooth snake and other heathland reptiles. 

ARC employed two project officers to coordinate a systematic reptile survey and monitoring programme and to lead an education and events programme, working with local communities, to ensure that those living closest to smooth snake habitat are aware of its many benefits and have opportunities to support reptile conservation. 

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3.Heathland reptile monitoring: what did the project achieve? 

The Snakes in the Heather Heathland Reptile Monitoring Programme adapted new digital technologies to enable surveyors to record and view species data, provided reptile survey training so that surveyors could collect comparable data and offered new surveyors the opportunity to develop their skills through group surveys and ongoing mentoring. Some highlights include: 

  • 1 new survey system - the ARC Survey Hub, which includes apps and digital resources to support surveyors. 

  • 357 people trained in reptile survey techniques and to use the ARC Survey Hub. This includes 124 project partners and 257 volunteers. 

  • 205 people participated in 1520 heathland reptile surveys. 67 of these were group reptile surveys which were attended by 181 unique participants including 107 volunteers and 74 partner organisation representatives. 

  • Over 18,000 records collected including 1600 smooth snake observations and 1500 adder observations. 

  • Smooth snakes found in 23 1km squares where there were no previous records or no records in over a decade. 

  • Models of predicted habitat suitability produced for the smooth snake, sand lizard and adder across the south of England. 

Snakes in the Heather (SitH) Reptile Survey Training Event - Avon heath Country Park 2022

4. Habitat Management: what did the project achieve? 

The Snakes in the Heather Habitat Management Programme provided habitat management tools and support to ARC’s Reserve Teams in Dorset and Surrey, recruited new ‘Task Day’ volunteers and employed contractors to restore habitat for reptiles. Some highlights include: 

  • 66 habitat management task events took place on dry lowland heath. 

  • 6 habitat management tasks ran in partnership with Forestry England on important reptile habitat in the New Forest. 

  • 9 ‘Sunday Fundays’, a task day designed to include families with 100 new volunteers from ages 3 to 70 taking part! 

  • 189 unique volunteers supporting heathland habitat restoration, totalling 751 volunteer days. 

  • Contractors employed to improve an area of degraded heath adjacent to a ‘good condition’ heathland, expanding the possible range for a smooth snake population. 

  • Multiple heathland habitat managers have been sharing their knowledge with each other via workshops and networks supported or developed by the project. 


5. Education and Events: what did the project achieve? 

The Snakes in the Heather Education and Events Programme taught communities living adjacent to heathland habitat about the amazing wildlife on their doorstep. Many of those involved had their first interaction with UK reptile species, with activities designed to dispel common myths about reptiles, resulting in greater appreciation. The project also collaborated with project partners to deliver workshops and events covering how to help conserve heathlands for future generations. Some highlights include: 

  • Events delivered for 57 schools, SEN and community groups with almost 4,000 children receiving lessons about the UK’s reptile species.  

  • An educational children’s story book published and distributed to over 100 schools and community groups. 

  • 21 college and university events took place, reaching 833 students. 

  • 7 work experience and university placements have taken place, supporting students to develop skills and network. 

  • 27 talks; about ecology of heathlands, reptiles and the work of the  SitH project, were attended by over 1,035 people. 

  • 50 walks; showing heathland habitat whilst delivering messages about sustainable behaviours, reaching 485 people. 

  • 45 community outreach events were held, directly interacting with 4,760 people living adjacent to heathlands. 

  • 15 Wild Wednesdays (family focussed educational events during the summer holidays) reached 3,100 people. 

  • 7 workshops were hosted reaching 125 reptile and/or heathland stakeholders. 

  • 6 conferences were attended by the SitH team; presentations reached over 980 people. 


6. Snakes in the Heather wider promotion and outreach: who else has learned about UK reptiles? 

Running a project with so many out-reach related targets was difficult during the pandemic. Rather than pause the project, the team invested more heavily in digital outreach, to continue to deliver education during the pandemic. Due to its success, much of this work continued after lock-down periods ended. Some highlights include: 

  • An online project launch event, with 107 booking on, was held in June 2021. 

  • The Snakes in the Heather Celebration and Close event was held in person and was attended by around 50 volunteers and partner organisation staff. 

  • Blogs written by the SitH team were viewed 3,514 times. 

  • Videos produced by the SitH team and uploaded to ARC’s YouTube channel were viewed 4,294 times. 

  • The Snakes in the Heather webpage was viewed 5,310 times. 

  • Snakes in the Heather’s social media posts had a reach of over 500,000 and an engagement of 44,608. 

  • The SitH team provided advice/content for websites, articles and TV features for BBC Wildlife and Springwatch. The SitH team appeared on BBC Breakfast, Countryfile and the Countryfile Podcast, all to showcase the UK’s reptiles. 

Figures recorded December 2023. 


7. After Snakes in the Heather: what difference has the project made? 

Many elements of the Snakes in the Heather project are continuing and the results from the project will shape conservation for years to come.  

Of particular note to Heathland Reptile Monitoring: 

  • The Snakes in the Heather project habitat suitability models for the smooth snake, sand lizard and adder will inform conservation decisions including about habitat restoration priority sites, ongoing habitat management and smooth snake reintroduction sites. 

  • The ARC Survey Hub remains live. It is the home of the National Amphibian and Reptile Monitoring Programme. 

  • Trained Snakes in the Heather Reptile Surveyors continue to contribute reptile survey data which will be incorporated into the national programme. 


Of particular note to Habitat Management: 

  • ARC continues to deliver volunteer Habitat Task days. Any ‘Task volunteers’ recruited during Snakes in the Heather are invited to join our regular tasks. Details can be found on the ARC events page. 

  • Many of the networks established during SitH are maintained as part of wider conservation efforts. ARC’s training programme will endeavor to include workshops for heathland managers. 

  • Smooth Snake Conservation Guidance has been developed for heathland managers and published on ARC’s website. 


Of particular note to Education and Events: 

  • Educational resources developed during the project, including activity sheets and education videos are available on ARC’s Education webpage and YouTube channel. 

  • Educational networks developed to promote reptile conservation remain active with support from ARC’s core staff and through educational projects and campaigns. 

  • Lessons learned throughout the project are shared via ARC’s social media and other communications. 

  • ARC continues to work with the smooth snake Species Champion to advocate policy beneficial to reptile species.  


Thank you! 

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation would like to say a big thank you to all those who contributed to the Snakes in the Heather project. This includes our funders the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Bannister Trust, Love the Forest and private donors.We would also like to thank all the project partners listed in full on the Snakes in the Heather webpage. Note, the above is a summary and not a full record of the Snakes in the Heather project’s achievements. If you would like to learn more about the project throughout its delivery, see our other project blogs. 

Snakes in the Heather has been a huge undertaking, full of ups, downs and opportunities for learning. (Most of the downs were related to the global pandemic which even the most rigorous of project planning during the development phase could not have predicted!) 

Delivery of a project with so many out-reach related targets has only been possible because of the hard work of all those involved. Where we were not able to meet specific targets, we always had the outcomes in mind; to further smooth snake conservation via partnership work, to develop and carry out standardised reptile surveys and to involve people, all of which, we are delighted to report, has been a success. 


Best wishes and happy herping! 


Ben Limburn & Owain Masters, the Snakes in the Heather Team