An unexpected smooth snake

Sometimes things just happen out of the blue.

Andy Fale, Dorset Wildlife Trust

Smooth Snake : Photo by Andy Fale, Dorset Wildlife Trust

Yesterday I decided to drive to Ringwood to buy a bag for my new camcorder. I’d got fed up of carting it around in a cardboard box and thought it deserved a proper home.

Don’t laugh but I’d actually spotted a fishing tackle bag at one of the fishing shops in Ringwood the week before, and as it was exactly the right size and shape I decided to bite the bullet and buy it.

Ringwood, on the edge of the New Forest, isn’t that far from where I live, 13 miles to be exact. To get to it you have to travel down the A31, a partly single-lane and dual-carriageway road that was built some years ago through mostly heathland habitat (pretty controversial).

Coming to a roundabout at a place near to Ferndown Forest I noticed several one-metre squares of corrugated iron sheeting at the side of the road, spread across the gorse and bracken. I’m incredibly nosey by nature so I pulled the car over and went to have a closer look.

A company called Mott MacDonald were undertaking an environmental survey and were obviously using the corrugated iron to encourage reptiles. The sheets get incredibly warm when it’s sunny, and snakes and slow-worms love to hide under them to soak up the heat.

Maybe I shouldn’t have but I tentatively looked under a couple of sheets. Nothing. I looked under another and staring up at me was a rather bewildered wood-mouse who I apologised to and left in peace. Just two more sheets left. Under one a slow-worm. Glowing, bronzed and beautiful. Under the other a small brown and black snake coiled and lying perfected still.

Now I wasn’t absolutely sure what it was and typically I DIDN’T have my camera. So I memorized it’s important identification features, carefully laid the sheet back down, and dashed home to look in my ID book.

Fifteen minutes later, staring at the picture in the book there was no doubt about it… it was a smooth snake. The countries rarest reptile and my first ever UK snake.


10 thoughts on “An unexpected smooth snake

  1. Thanks Neil. I’ve seen slow-worms, sand lizards and common lizards (and now smooth snake) but haven’t seen grass snake or adder. Saw loads of grass snakes in France last year but sadly none in the UK. At least not since I’ve been an adult. As a kid I used to see them in the river Avon at Salisbury when I went fishing with my dad (along with loads of water voles)….. but that was 30 years ago! Jane

  2. Great stuff Jane!
    I know Ringwood quite well – because of the decent beer there mainly, I’m afraid to say…!
    I haven’t seen a smooth snake ever, though I don’t happen across their territory or bits of corrugated iron that much!
    See grass snakes regularly in London though – swimming across the river Lea in Tottenham funnily enough, (where our old flat is).
    I’d love to see a smoothie though – very jealous!

  3. Hi Doug. That’s funny. I know Tottenham quite well. I was born and brought up in Palmers Green (until age 12), just down the road. Luckily I see corrugated iron laying around all the time… especially on the heaths where they put it down for surveys. First time I’ve seen it at the side of the road though. I think they must be planning a road expansion there… I will keep an eye on it! Jane

  4. Kate. I’ve seen very, very few… and now I can’t stop seeing them. Funny really. I guess I’m particularly looking for them this year. Surprised you don’t see any in the rivers/brooks… I often used to see grass snakes in the same rivers as the water voles (when I was young). Jane

  5. Ashamed to say that I’d never even heard of a smooth snake. Seen plenty of grass snakes, the real mccoy and their shed skins. They used to breed in the compost heap in my previous home. But I did find my first slow worm on the farm a few weeks ago.

  6. Don’t worry Mopsa… nor had I until a couple of years ago. Now I live near to the Dorset heaths you soon get to know all the UK’s 6 species of reptile (smooth snake, adder, grass snake, common lizard, slow worm and sand lizard). Wish I had grass snakes in my compost… Thanks for visiting! Jane

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