11 September 2008

Low-down on adders

In the aftermath of a recent adder bite incident, Froglife and The Herpetological Conservation Trust – both charities representing the UK’s amphibians and reptiles- commiserate with ten-year-old victim, Mollie Hawker, and offer some advice to prevent recurrence of a similar event.

Froglife’s Head of Conservation Daniel Piec said, “In our increasingly urbanised society people rarely encounter wild snakes. It comes as a surprise to some of us to learn that we have snakes living in the UK, but there are, in fact, three species. Although still uncommon events, the warm months of the summer are when most snake encounters occur – but these need not create unnecessary alarm”.

The snake most likely to be seen is the grass snake, because it sometimes visits gardens. Harmless to pets, grass snakes may frequent garden ponds during the summer, in search of their prey, frogs, toads and newts. Legless lizards, slow-worms, are often mistaken for snakes and can also be found in gardens in some parts of the country. They, too, are harmless.

Our only venomous snake is the adder. While adder bite should always be taken seriously, the likelihood of being bitten should be kept in proportion and an unnecessary fear of snakes should not spoil our enjoyment of the outdoors.

John Baker, Widespread Species Officer for the Herpetological Conservation Trust, said, “Adders tend to be found in wild places, such as heathland, downs, moorland and woodland rides rather than in our gardens. They are usually confined to specific areas locally – the countryside is certainly not crawling with adders. Even in ‘adder territory’, the chances of an encounter are slim. But there are precautions you can take to minimise these even further.”

“Keeping to paths reduces the chance of taking an adder by surprise, and stout footwear, such as walking boots are a sensible protective measure.”

He added: “The adder is not an aggressive animal – it does not seek out humans, and quite the opposite will do its best to avoid them. If you do come across a snake, then the best advice is to leave it alone. Most adder bites occur through people picking up the snake!”

If anyone is unfortunate enough to be bitten, then the advice is simple – the casualty should be immobilised, but taken to hospital where a proper medical assessment and any necessary treatment can be given. Although often painful, adder bite is rarely fatal - the last human death in Britain was over thirty years ago. Medical treatment of adder bite is very effective.

And what about the third native snake? The smooth snake, is such a rare and secretive beast, found only on heathlands in southern England, that there is almost no chance of meeting one.

Froglife’s Daniel Piec concludes: “With a bit of understanding, the risk posed by the adder virtually disappears and the unlikely event of a snake encounter should be a positive highlight of the outdoor experience, rather than something to worry about”.

For further information - including tips on identifying adders and advice on adder bites- visit: www.froglife.org/advice.htm

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