By Sylvia Sheldon
[Sylvia Sheldon has been undertaking an important study of adders in Wyre for many years. The following is extracted from her 1999 census report, with her permission. Ed]
|Year Total||Number of Sites Surveyed||Sites with adders||Mature Males||Mature females||Total||Average per site|
|Year||Sites with adders||Mature males||Mature females (Observed)||Mature females (Estimated)||Total (Observed)||Total (Estimated)|
|Year||First Sighting||Air Temp. (°C)||Grass Temp. (°C)||First Slough|
|1999||16 Feb||8.0||9.0||16 Apr|
|1998||11 Feb||13.6||12.5||17 Apr|
|1997||15 Feb||8.6||11.0||08 Apr|
|1996||16 Feb||12.2||15.0||24 Apr|
|1995||12 Feb||11.4||11.0||10 -Apr|
|1994||10 -Feb||10.0||15.0||18 Apr|
|1993||17 Feb||10.7||12.5||16 Apr|
|1992||23 Feb||13.0||15.0||22 Apr|
|1991||23 Feb||14.0||17.0||19 Apr|
The 1999 Adder Census confirmed the decline in the adder population during the past decade. Table 1a shows the dramatic drop in numbers, both of adders themselves and the sites where are now present.
The relatively low numbers of female adders recorded in the census was discussed in the 1993 Report, when a study of ten females over a period of 11 seasons from 1983 onwards was completed. The data collected provided valuable information on the variable breeding cycle of each of these adders.
Previous observers had indicated that females in the UK bred in alternate years. This was proven by the results not to be the case in Wyre Forest. The females studied (three survived the full study period) all bred four times. They had "rest" periods to build up fat reserves of between one to four years. The data showed them breeding on average every three years.
In their non-breeding years the females tended to emerge from hibernation later than the breeding females, when the weather was generally warmer and more settled (and therefore more suitable for active hunting). They also tended to disperse from the hibernaculum areas very quickly, so that they were very difficult to observe. This knowledge explained the relatively low numbers of females observed during normal spring counts - the non-breeding females were generally not being seen. By adding the numbers of females from the previous two years to those observed for the current season, a more realistic estimate of the total can be obtained. This method has been used to prepare Table la and Graph 5.
Graph 5 Adder population trends
1993 was the last time that adder numbers were estimated to exceed 300 (345 estimated). In 1994 there were the first obvious signs of a decline, which continued through 1995 and 1996. The last three years show no signs of recovery towards former levels, This would, in any event, be a slow process given the limitation of the breeding frequency of the females.
Since 1993 there has also been a sharp decline in the number of sites where adders can be found, reaching an all-time low of 35 sites in l999 - since surveys began in 1985 80 used sites have been recorded. However, at no time have all 80 sites been found to be used in one season. A number of sites became unsuitable in the late nineteen-eighties and into the nineties, and new sites were also discovered.
Sites particularly on the forest edge have been completely destroyed by heavy machinery involved in development work.
Such as felling, scarifying, and replanting can be destructive to both adders and habitat.
Spoil deposited on active adder hibernacula has buried many adders alive. They cannot excavate their own holes and are therefore trapped underground.
Has in some cases destroyed adder hibernacula. More liaison is required before embarking upon such projects.
These are not a native species, and are known to prey upon adders, especially juveniles. Ins area where intensive pheasant rearing has commenced adders have disappeared.
This is always evident. Every year adders are found battered to death. The formal protection offered by legislation, which makes it illegal to kill an adder, is of little value in practice.
This is an additional problem, especially in the adder breeding season which coincides with the seasonal increase in human and dog numbers in the forest.
Adders have been found to have fallen victim to cars, mountain bikes, and horses.
This will influence the breeding cycle of females, who will take longer to regain body weight if food is scarce, and the winter survival of both sexes. In Wyre, adders have been observed to feed mainly on bank voles and field voles, but there is no information on variation in their numbers.
This oes not appear to be an issue, since there is no evidence of it in the existing population.
It is not known if a series of mild, wet winters has had an impact on adders in hibernation.
There has been a significant increase in the buzzard population in recent years. Although these are not considered a major threat, they have been known to take adders.
I would like to thank Chris Bradley and Jeff Hubball for their census work, and all those who reported reptile sightings, and landowners on whose property the study has been undertaken.
Ms Sylvia Sheldon, Knowles Mill, Dowles Brook, Wyre Forest, near Bewdley, Worcestershire, DY12 2LX.
Sylvia would be delighted to hear from anyone who would like to undertake census work in the future in new areas, or at sites which she could suggest to them.
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