Species in Focus: Grass Snake

Grass snake livestock vaughn matthewsGrass snakes are Britain’s largest snake, reaching up to 150cm in length. They are olive-green in colour, with a pattern of dark markings along their flanks and a distinctive yellow collar around the neck. Completely harmless to humans, it’s another story when it comes to amphibians! They survive on a diet of amphibians, fish, small mammals and birds. A frequent visitor to compost heaps, the general habitat of grass snakes is wetlands and grasslands.

The following is an extract from the Amphibian and Reptile Groups UK publication ‘Grass Snake Egg Laying Heaps’, which highlights how grass snakes and humans interact:

Grass snakes and humans have been intricately linked through livestock husbandry for many thousands of years across large parts of Europe. Historically, grass snakes have made use of manure heaps, and latterly compost heaps, as egg laying sites, since these structures generate the heat that the snakes need to incubate and successfully hatch their eggs.

belted galloway conservation grazing pont cymru grass snakeIn previous times this close association led to the grass snake being regarded as a house god in some parts of Europe, the symbol of spring, wisdom and protecting livestock. However, in common with much of our native wildlife, we are seeing declines in grass snakes as agricultural and livestock husbandry practises change.

One factor is thought to be the availability of egg-laying sites, since there are fewer suitable heaps of manure accessible to grass snakes in the wider countryside. One means of boosting grass snake numbers may therefore be to create egg-laying heaps. These heaps also provide shelter and overwintering sites for slow-worms, amphibians, invertebrates and small mammals such as hedgehogs, mice and voles.

Perhaps consider dedicating a corner of a hay meadow to a compost heap and see what turns up!

If you would like to know more about conservation grazing, contact PONT Cymru.

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