In his latest update Snakes in the Heather Public Engagement and Education Officer, Owain Masters fills us in on what the project team has been up to as the year draws to a close, and their plans for the new year

It’s Sssmooth sssnake sssleepy time once again... or is it? We would expect most of the UK reptile species to be entering a less active period of the year and moving underground or into sheltered spots for brumation. However, this year, with the mild weather, many of our reptile species are still active and we are continuing to receive sightings records from both our trained surveyors and members of the public. With COP26 in recent news, we have been reflecting on the effects of a warming climate on reptiles. I am sure that there will be more and more modelling of possible outcomes for the UK’s reptile as the climate warms. One thing is already certain, the survival of the smooth snakes in the UK is reliant on the conservation of our limited remaining dry-lowland heath, and that this heath must be of a suitable size to support the species.

When the weather finally does get colder, reptiles will choose a place that is dry, frost-free, and safe from predators. This will include unused mammal burrows, stumps of dead or rotten trees, root holes and large grass tussocks, often molinia (purple moor grass).

As we mentioned in a blog at this time last year, the Snakes in the Heather project is still gathering information about preferred smooth snake hibernation sites and behaviour. What we find out will form part of a package of advice the project will share with partner heathland managers across the south of England so that we can all further conservation of the species.

We, the project officers, also remain active! We have been running educational events including lessons and lectures, we have been hosting weekend volunteer days and we thoroughly enjoyed a couple of recent volunteer ‘get-togethers’ in the New Forest and in Dorset. These ‘get-togethers’ were a great chance to find out more about the project’s results to date, ask questions about surveying and to catch up over a drink or two. Thank you to all the volunteers who came along and made them so enjoyable.

We have a few more events in the calendar before Christmas including a stall at RSPB Arne on 3rd and 4th December. At Arne, we will be selling ‘In Search of Old Uncle Blue’, an educational storybook, and talking to the public about heathland conservation. For anyone following the 4 gift rule this Christmas, we would like to recommend ‘In Search of Old Uncle Blue’ as the ‘something to read’! You can buy your copy in the ARC online shop.

We are now busy planning for the last full year of the project. This will include the reptile survey training, which is being offered to volunteers and project partner staff, and if you are reading this and would like to learn more take a look at ARC’s events page from early February. We will aim to run a number of online and in person reptile survey training events and group surveys between February and the end of the survey season in the Autumn.

If you have questions about next year’s reptile surveys please email [email protected]

If you would like to join us as an event volunteer please email [email protected].

Snakes in the Heather is supported by a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Reptile survey photo by Mike Berwick