Helping Britain’s rarest reptile

About Snakes in the Heather 

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 that safeguards 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.
Snakes in the Heather (SitH) Reptile Survey Training Event - Avon heath Country Park 2022ARC 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 those living closest to smooth snake habitat are aware of its many benefits and have opportunities to support its conservation.
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Heathland Reptile Monitoring 

The Snakes in the Heather Heathland Reptile Monitoring Programme involved designing innovative new survey technologies, providing reptile survey training so that surveyors are providing comparable data and then providing ongoing mentoring and support through group surveys and the provision of Smooth Snake Conservation guidance. Some highlights include: 
  • 1 new survey system - the ARC Survey Hub, which includes a series of apps and resources to make reptiles surveys a simple process.
  • 357 people trained in reptile survey techniques and to use the ARC Survey Hub. This includes 124 project partners and 257 volunteers.
  • 1520 heathland reptile surveys have taken place during the project.
  • Over 18000 records collected, including 1600 smooth snakes and 1500 adder.
  • Smooth snakes found in 23 1km squares where there were no previous records or no records in over a decade.
  • Data models of habitat suitability across south of England produced for the smooth snake, sand lizard and adder.

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Habitat Management 

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 improve heathland suitability for reptiles. Some highlights include: 
  • 66 habitat management task events taking place across the range of 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! 
  • An area of degraded heath adjacent to a ‘good condition’ heathland restored via contractor work, increasing the available range for reptiles at that site.
  • Multiple heathland habitat managers have been sharing their knowledge with each other via workshops and networks supported or developed by the project.

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Conserving smooth snakes and other heathland reptiles: guidance for land-managers and ecologists

The purpose of the guidance is to enable people who look after heathland sites to consider the needs of smooth snakes and other reptiles during heathland management. This series of notes and resources has been adapted from training and workshop materials used during the Snakes in the Heather project. 

Read guidance

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Education and Events 

The Snakes in the Heather Education and Events Programme taught communities living adjacent to heathland habitat about the amazing wildlife on their doorstep. The project showcased the species and worked with project partners to deliver workshops and events covering how to help conserve heathlands for future generations. Some highlights include:
  • Almost 4000 children have received lessons about the UK’s reptile species.
  • An educational children’s story book 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.
  • 30 talks; about ecology of heathlands, reptiles and the work of the SitH project. 
  • 50 walks; showing heathland habitat whilst delivering messages about sustainable behaviours.
  • 66 public events targeting communities living adjacent to heathlands.
  • Over 15,000,000 people reached through digital communications, including social media, website views and appearances on radio and television including BBC news and Countryfile. 

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 After Snakes in the Heather

Many aspects 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 data models of habitat suitability across south of England developed for smooth snake, sand lizard and adder are used to inform conservation decisions including habitat restoration priority sites, ongoing habitat management and smooth snake relocation sites. 
  • The ARC Survey Hub remains live. It is the home of the National Amphibian and Reptile Monitoring Programmes. 
  • 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 will continue to be developed and updated as work progresses.
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 further 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.

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Thank you!

For a more detailed look at the project throughout its delivery take a look at the project updates. 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 at the end of the page.

    Project updates:

    Mar 2024: Snakes in the Heather: improving the prospects of smooth snakes and other heathland reptiles

    Feb 2024: Snakes in the Heather – a celebration

    Nov 2023: Snakes in the Moonlight - night time reptile survey research

    Sep 2023: New Forest MP joins wildlife surveyors to help New Forest rarities

    Jul 2023: Paving the way to a bright future for UK smooth snakes

    May 2023: ARC celebrate smooth snake reintroduction anniversary with BBC Breakfast

    Mar 2023: Awe-inspiring artwork and spellbinding snakes!

    Jan 2023: Snakes in the Heather - a busy year ahead

    Nov 2022: Snakes in the Heather - conservation, education and celebration

    Sep 2022: Snakes in the Heather - reflecting on a successful summer

    Jul 2022: Not long until Heath Week 2022

    Mar 2022: Snakes in the Heather - inspiring volunteers and the next generation

    Feb 2022: Story time for Snakes in the Heather

    Jan 2022: Snakes in the Heather - preparation is key!

    Nov 2021: Sssmooth sssnake sssleepy time...

    Sep 2021: Successful summer for Snakes in the Heather

    May 2021: Snakes in the Heather – New video lesson series and exciting dates for your diary!

    Mar 2021: Snakes in the Heather springs into action

    Feb 2021: New educational videos for children

    Jan 2021: Snakes in the Heather goes digital

    Nov 2020: A creative first year for Snakes in the Heather

    Sep 2020: A Dragon Finding Quest!

    Sep 2020: Back to nature

    Jul 2020: Snakes are Sssuperb!

    Feb 2020: A smooth start to Snakes in the Heather

    Oct 2019: Reptile Awareness Day 2019

    Jul 2019: The secretive smooth snake gets National Lottery lifeline

    We are extremely thankful for the support of our partners, volunteers and funders who have made Snakes in the Heather a reality. The project is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Bannister Trust and Love the Forest (New Forest Trust).


    Our Snakes in the Heather project partners are: 

    Amphibian & Reptile Groups UK

    Bournemouth Community Action Network

    Bournemouth Natural Science Society

    Bournemouth University

    Bournemouth, Christchurch & Poole Council

    Broadstone Golf Club

    Clinton Devon Estates - East Devon Pebblebed Heaths

    Devon Reptile & Amphibian Group (DRAG)

    Dorset Amphibian & Reptile Network (DARN)

    Dorset County Council

    Dorset Wildlife Trust

    Erica Trust

    Forestry England

    Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

    Hampshire & Isle of Wight Amphibian & Reptile Group (HIWARG)

    Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust

    Hampshire County Council

    Kingston Maurward College

    Livability, Holton Lee

    Men in Sheds Christchurch

    National Trust

    Natural England

    New Forest National Park Authority

    Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

    Surrey Amphibian & Reptile Group (SARG)

    Sussex Amphibian & Reptile Group (SxARG)

    Urban Heaths Partnership

    Wiltshire Wildlife Trust

    Wiltshire Amphibian & Reptile Group (WARG)

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