ARC’s Snakes in the Heather Public Engagement and Education Officer, Owain Masters tells us how the team have been getting ready for a busy survey and event season ahead.

Snakes in the Heather – the ARC led project to coordinate conservation of the smooth snake across its range in the UK – is currently in preparation mode. We have been extremely busy behind the scenes getting ready for the year ahead:

For the Citizen Science side of the project this has meant visiting smooth snake sites and making sure they are ready to be surveyed. We undertake several different types of reptile surveys at ARC. One method is to use ‘artificial cover objects’ referred to as ‘ACOs’, which warm and retain heat more than the surrounds, to attract reptiles. This allows us to record the presence and absence of the different species. A big thank you to our volunteers who have helped us to check existing ACOs and set up new ones this winter.

We have also planned a number of Reptile Survey Training events to take place in the next couple of months. The training events are for project partner staff and existing volunteers, bringing them up to speed with the survey and monitoring methods designed for the project, and also for all new volunteers wanting to support conservation by providing key data. We have thought carefully about how to keep our volunteer training safe with the ongoing impacts of COVID and have planned a programme that includes online and in person events. If you are interested in becoming a survey volunteer for ARC please visit our volunteering section.

Alongside our survey programme we continue to teach all sorts of groups about our amazing heathland reptiles. Reptiles are elusive by nature, so awareness raising, which helps to make sure they are valued by local communities, is vital for protection of heaths and their adjoining habitats.

Most recently we have been running family-friendly volunteer task days on the first Sunday of the month. Tried and tested volunteer task days are often adult only and most often fall during the week, so it was delightful to see that there was such an interest in them. At these ‘Sunday Funday’ events we have removed areas of invasive pine trees, and, between us, we have learned about what reptiles do in winter, and there has been plenty of child led play. They have come to be a lovely mix of activities that reduce any barriers to enjoyment of natural spaces whilst involving families in positive action. Thank you to our recently recruited Events Volunteers who have helped us lead the Sunday Funday events. We look forward to the next one!

Also coming up are our Science Weeks events, which are available to schools during their national Science Week. At these events we will be explaining why we survey for wildlife and we will teach children about the six native reptile species in the UK. These events are fully booked and we are delighted that so many schools are including the native species whilst teaching biological principles.

If you think you would enjoy being an Events Volunteer or if you are a teacher or group leader and would like to book a bespoke event such as a guided walk or online talk please email [email protected]

If you are interested in joining a Snakes in the Heather event please visit our events section.

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.