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Keep your eyes out for snakes in your compost

News | Published:

  • Islanders encouraged to look our for grass snakes in their compost and manure heaps
  • Rob Ward, from the University of Kent, is working with the Environment Department on the Think Grass Snake campaign
  • Find out more about grass snakes below
  • Are you scared of snakes? Take part in our poll

A SCIENTIST leading a campaign to save Jersey's grass snake is urging people to take some simple measures to help the population lay their eggs safely.

Doctoral student Rob Ward, from the University of Kent, with an injured grass snake

Doctoral student Rob Ward, from the University of Kent, is working with the Environment Department on the Think Grass Snake campaign by carrying out research on ways to save Jersey's non-venomous and harmless snake.

He has called on Islanders to keep an eye out for the reptiles – which lay their eggs in June and early July – because they may be using compost and manure heaps for nest sites.

Mr Ward asked for the piles not to be disturbed until October if possible, to allow the young snakes to hatch after a two-month incubation period.

He made the appeal after a grass snake was recently injured by either a strimmer or another animal.

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Mr Ward said: 'This is one of the most important times of year for grass snakes, as the next generation's chance of survival depends on finding the best conditions.

'As humans have modified landscapes and habitat over centuries, grass snakes have come to be largely dependent on man-made piles of rotting vegetation, such as compost and manure heaps, to provide the perfect incubation chamber for their eggs.'

He also urged Islanders to report sightings all year round.

'It all helps build a clearer picture of where they are living and nesting and how to protect them, and will contribute towards a study which aims to stop the decline of these native reptiles,' Mr Ward said.

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Sightings can be reported through the campaign website ThinkGrassSnake.je.

Islanders can also call 441628 if they see a grass snake or a slow-worm.

  • The grass snake is Britain's largest terrestrial reptile.
  • It is typically olive-green, brown or greyish in colour, with a variable row of black bars along the sides, occasionally with smaller round markings along the back in double rows.
  • The underside of the grass snake is off-white or yellowish with dark triangular or rectangular markings. A characteristic black and yellow collar is present behind the head, which has earned the species the alternative name of 'ringed snake'.
  • Totally black (melanistic) forms of grass snake and albinos occasionally arise.
  • Male and female grass snakes are generally similar in appearance, although females are often larger; males can be identified by the presence of a swelling at the base of the tail and by the fact that they have longer tails relative to females.
  • The average length of a female grass snake is 75 to 80 cm, while the average length of a male is 65 cm.
  • The grass snake is found in lowland areas of Britain. It is widespread and common in some areas of the south and south east of England, is absent from Scotland and becomes rare in central Wales. It is not found in Ireland, where it is said to have been expelled by Saint Patrick.
  • Outside of Britain, the grass snake has a wide distribution in continental Europe, from southern Scandinavia to southern Italy, reaching as far east as Lake Baikal. It is also found in northwestern Africa.
  • Experts currently disagree on the number of subspecies of grass snake. British grass snakes belong to the western subspecies Natrix natrix Helvetica

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