We set off from the Wilverley Pit car park on a bright but chilly morning to look, mainly, for smooth snakes on Wilverley Plain. We were led by Ben Limburn from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC). He and his associate Owen explained how these rare reptiles were being monitored on the plain. The volunteers use ‘refugia’ (basically a piece of corrugated material, in this case non-metallic roofing material) which the local reptiles use to shelter under. The refugia are black in colour which absorbs solar heat making them attractive to reptiles. All the refugia are labelled, but if you come across one in the forest it is advisable to leave them alone – the temptation is to lift them to see what is hiding underneath is great, but Adders also like them so be wary!
Smooth Snakes are under many threats in this country, not least the weather. Britain is at the northern limits of these beautiful reptiles and our population is very important. In Europe they breed every year, but here it can be between 2 and 4 years between broods. They carry the eggs inside them, giving birth to live young. This means that gravid females must bask extensively to incubate the eggs inside them. This is a strategy adopted by the majority of native reptiles (Common Lizard, Slowworm and Adders all do the same). The main prey species of Smooth Snakes are other reptiles, they are not constrictors but just overpower their prey with their weight and strength.
Ben had all the refugia entered in a GPS handset, so he was able to lead us to them, though that is easier said than done and the chances of randomly finding them is quite slight! At the third refugium we found the snake pictured. A youngish female who seemed very relaxed at being handled, though we put her back as soon as we had all seen her so as not to cause too much stress. ARC always need volunteers, so if you fancy being one check out their website at www.arc-trust.org
On the Plain itself we also saw Wheatears and Stonechats, and we found Autumn Lady’s Tresses (a beautiful, but easily overlooked orchid) and Field Gentians.
The biscuits were provided by Mike and Mary, and I had a couple of Hobnobs. (Lucky you! – editor) (CR)
Photographs © Chris Robinson