Okay I know that I am on dodgy ground here. Many people hate snakes with very good reason.
This post is in response to one that my good friend John Suchled wrote on his blog “Scattered Words.” He wrote about the need to keep the yard tidy and about Tiger Snakes. John lives in Australia.
In many parts of the world snakes can and do kill people. If you live in such a place you might think that it would be nice to live in Ireland (no snakes) or New Zealand (no snakes). I like living in England. We have three snakes and they are not dangerous and that is better than no snakes at all in my book.
In England we can enjoy and love our snakes.
We have a Smooth Snake but I don’t have pictures of this one. The Smooth Snake is extremely rare and it’s distribution is limited to a few select parts of the country. It is non-venomous and you will be very lucky to see one.
The Grass Snake is another non-venomous one.
I am told that it is often confused with the Adder, presumably because it is snake shaped, it doesn’t look anything like an Adder. The general appearance is of a long thin grey snake. It has a distinctive yellow collar and the pupils of it’s eyes are round.
The Adder is a Viper and it is venomous. There have been fifteen recorded deaths in the UK from the last 150 years. Pussy Cats are more dangerous than Adders. The last death from an Adder bite was recorded nearly forty years ago. The bite is painful and the effects in an adult can last for several months, children recover quicker for some reason. Herpetologists refer to being bitten as being “tagged,” an occupational hazard. A bite is very rarely fatal but you should seek medical attention. The most common treatment is to observe you for two hours and then send you home. There are anti-venoms but they are only administered in extreme cases.
Often the snake will not envenomate. It bites without injecting venom because venom is a limited resource.
This is not a dangerous animal. The one thing that you should never, ever do is to TRY TO PICK IT UP.
The most common reason that people are bitten is because they tried to handle the animal. There was a case here in August that made the news, a man was seriously bitten three times by an Adder that he had picked up.
I don’t know why anyone would do that, possibly if you had mental health issues and saw something bright and sparkly in the grass…
This post is about the day that I tried to pick up an Adder.
I wasn’t exactly unaware, in fact I had been living with these snakes for several years, I had researched them and thought that I knew them well. I just had one more important lesson to learn.
I had bought a piece of woodland in East Sussex and the reason that I chose that patch was because on my first viewing I saw two Adders in a clearing in the wood. I had never seen an Adder before. They were exotic and beautiful, like something out of the jungle. They were also the reason that I bought my first camera.
About 120 acres of woodland had been split into smaller plots and sold to private owners as amenity woodland. It was a little piece of paradise. Almost as soon as we moved in we were contacted by local foresters who wanted the Oak. Playing on the naivete of the new owners, experts assured us that proper woodland management entailed the removal of the Oak that until now they hadn’t been able to touch.
It was an obvious scam. The Forestry Commission were handing out grants for the restoration of the Sweet Chestnut Coppice. There was no restoration being done. A coppice is not a place it is a way of life, it requires regular cutting over a period of many years and it is not profitable do continue doing this. With a grant for the restoration and with the Oak contained within the forest it became profitable to go in and do it but once only, there would be no grants or Oak next time.
We have history.
My little bit of paradise was destroyed, well everything around it anyway.
The biggest threat to our Adder population is Human disturbance and as the extraction and processing of the Oak increased my snakes started to disappear.
A few years into my ownership snakes had become thin on the ground. There is a particularly good time to look for Adders, the two weeks either side of May Day, this is their breeding season and they are focused on the task and much less wary of Humans. Some people say that this is the only time that you will see them.
I had been searching the land for several hours without success when walking back along a path that I had only just come along I spotted a little baby Adder.
I didn’t feel comfortable photographing it, hardly a triumph, it felt a bit disrespectful.
Somewhere in my fuddled brain a thought was forming and I swear it was unconscious, I was just wondering what had killed it, I couldn’t see any marks.
Okay it wouldn’t have killed me but even the little ones have venom.
What made me so mad with myself was that I knew, other people may be seeing a snake for the first time but it was already embedded in me not to approach them or cause them stress and never to pick one up.
But this one was dead. Lesson learned.
Here is Fizz demonstrating what she will do the next time that I am attacked by a snake.
If you live in the UK and you are lucky enough to come across one of our native snakes then you are seeing something wild and beautiful. Don’t approach it and don’t cause it stress. Take a photograph so that you can remember that special moment and let it go on it’s way.