Snelsmore Reptile Survey

This map of Snelsmore Common shows all of the points where Matt and I saw common lizards. Notice that there are not many in the south, where scrubland is rarer.

This map of Snelsmore Common shows all of the points where Matt and I saw common lizards. Notice that there are not many in the south, where scrubland is rarer.

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.

The typical heather enviroment, Matt and I were searching.Stick piles like this are perfect for adders to hide in.

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.

Maidenhead Reptile Survey

A piece of roofing felt placed to attract reptiles.

On the second day of my work experience with Matt, we went to do a reptile survey near Maidenhead. The area was due to be turn into a bowling green, but before the developers could begin construction, they needed to have a reptile survey done in order to determine how many reptiles were living there and whether or not they needed to be relocated first. There had already been reports of Slowworms in this part of Maidenhead, and so it was Matt’s job to find out what was living here and how many. Matt had already placed out pieces of roofing felt, like the one above, in order to attract reptiles that needed cover and a place to warm their bodies.

We went on Matt’s fourth trip to the site, hoping to find around 8 – 12 slowworms hiding in the grass, as well as the (somewhat legendary) silver grey slowworm Eric, a large male with fairly rare blue specks, named by Matt. At first, the only thing that was hiding under the roofing felt were colonies of ants, which crawled onto our arms, and left us with little irritating bites. However, on the fourth piece of tarp, we found a small female, whose gender we could identify by the brown stripe running down her sides. Overall we found 10 of the legless lizards, including a beige juvenile and a large dark brown male, pictured below.A male slowworm caught under a piece of tarp.

Unfortunately, the illustrious Eric did not turn up today, but we did find another unexpected visitor underneath the tarp. As I reached down to scoop up a lizard for a better look, Matt waved me away. He had spotted the dark form of a snake underneath the grass, and for a scary moment had thought it an adder, waiting to lash out at my unsuspecting fingers. Upon closer inspection we found that it was a young grass snake, only just turned mature. It’s skin had turned almost completely black and it’s eyes where milky instead of clear, because it was ready to moult its old skin. The black scales would soon fall away to reveal new brown-white scales. The two large scales kept over it’s eyes to protect them had begun to lift away, causing them to fog up with the cloudy colours. It was fantastic to see.A near moulting grass snake, ready to drop it's skin.

We returned all of the roofing felt to it’s original place, and moved on to the next part of our day. Matt would have to return to this site another three times before his survey was complete, and then pass on the results to another ecologist for assessment and relocation.