On the second day of my work experience with Matt, we went to Snelsmore Common in order to survey the reptiles that were supposedly living there. There had been previous reports of Common Lizards, Slowworms, Grass Snakes and even Adders living around the common, and Matt and I needed to find out where each species was living, and how many of them there were. The only way to perform a reptile survey like this is to walk around the area that you are surveying for several hours, slowly looking to see what you can find, and noting down it’s position. After a quick look at the map, Matt broke up the Common into three sections: the flat southern section, covered in gauze bushes and deforested land, the west and centre area, filled with various heathers, and the rougher northern section, with longer, uncut heathers. We ignored the forests, since reptiles tend not to live in wooded areas like that, preferring the low bracken where they can get a lot of heat from the sun, while still staying close to cover.
In the southerly section of the Common, there where very few reptiles could be found, except for the occasional lizard, there was very little heath for reptiles to hide in, since the whole area had recently been deforested. In order to control deforestation in this protected area, different sections are cut down for different harvests, meaning that the rest of the woodland has time to recover before more wood is needed. Another way in which this protected land is being sustainably used is grazing of Highland Cows. These cows are much closer to the pre-domestication wild cattle than the black and white cows we have today. As a result, they are far less picky with what they eat, munching on bracken and fern as easily as grass. This means that cattle can be raised in this area for human benefit, without cutting down the land for grazing space.
In the north and western areas, there was plenty of scrub for lizards and snakes to hide in, but the lizards that we did spot were to fast to photograph, leaving me sadly without any images of them. The heathers were taller here, and large piles of twigs were dotted about the landscape, the perfect places for adders to be hiding. The diamond crisscross camouflage on the adders back, helps to break up the outline of the adder, when it is amongst bracken. While still, it is very difficult to see a hidden adder, and so you must watch your step while in areas adders might live. Unfortunately, we did not see any adders, although I thought I saw the tail end of a large, brownish snake disappearing into the bushes. Since adders often remain in the same territories, we staked the bush out for several minutes, but the mystery snake did not return. We noted down where it was so that Matt could return another time.
In the day we had 16 lizards siting across Snelsdon Common, and one possible adder. This days was mainly about finding out what the Common was like, and where the reptiles where living. Matt will return to the Common several more times before he concludes this Reptile Survey.