Worcestershire Record No. 2 April 1997 p. 3


By Will Watson

There are six species of reptiles native to Britain; three snakes, the Grass Snake, Smooth Snake and the Adder and three lizards: the Common Lizard, Sand Lizard and Slow worm, the latter of which most of you will know is a lizard without legs; vestiges of these appendages are present beneath the skin.

There are four species of reptile present within the county. The Smooth Snake has never been recorded within the county. The Sand Lizard however, was present within the Wyre Forest during the last century and probably into the early part of this century. According to the Victoria County History other apparent sightings of Sand Lizard have come from Old Swinford, Tenbury and the Ragley Estate. There have been no confirmed sightings of Sand Lizard within the county this century, although I was informed by an gamekeeper (!) that large 'green' lizards had been seen on an estate to the north of Kidderminster.

Our rarest reptile is the Adder. This is not surprising since it has a preference for dry heathy habitats with a mixture of shrubs and open areas upon which to bask; such suitable locations are increasingly hard to find within the county. Well known Adder strongholds include the Wyre Forest and most of the Malvern Hills. Less well known sites include Kingsford Country Park and Kinver Edge (in Staffordshire), Habberley Valley and Arley Wood. Adders were previously present on the Lickey Hills, Storridge Common, Knapp and Papermill Reserve, Bredon Hill and at Wood Norton. However, there are no recent records from these five sites. Such smaller, often isolated populations are particularly vulnerable to habitat change and persecution. Evidence of the fragility of Adder population has been born out by Sylvia Sheldon's detailed study of Adders in the Wyre Forest, which shows a 30% decline over a five year period with little movement of animals between sites. If you know of any Adder sites or have old records please do pass them on to Sylvia Sheldon or myself. Once we have a confirmed presence on a site we can take measures to conserve what is our rarest herptile. In particular, if you can obtain any records from less well-known sites this would be especially valuable. The Grass Snake is probably has the widest distribution of our reptiles. Its main food items are amphibians. It is therefore usually encountered close to freshwater habitats. Despite being regularly encountered across the county it is known to have declined both nationally and locally. This decline is reflected by the losses of good amphibian sites. It is none-the-less better at colonizing new and former sites. It is probable that Grass Snakes will be present within a mile radius of a wetland (ponds, lakes, marsh or other) that in most years support healthy population of frogs or newts. It is worth noting that the Grass Snake is particularly partial to Great Crested Newt tadpoles if it can catch hold of them!

The Common Lizard has a surprisingly local distribution within the county. Notable populations exist on Hartlebury Common, the Rifle Range and Devil's Spittlefull Reserve, the Lickey Hills, the Malverns and the Wyre Forest. Recently they were also confirmed from Wilden Marsh, near Kidderminster and Tunnel Hill, near Evesham. There are undoubtedly several small isolated populations of Common Lizard within other suitable habitats. Indeed they will establish viable populations in areas of very small habitat such as old walls with crevices, dry south facing road verges and even suburban gardens. There must be more sites in the county for Common Lizard so please keep us informed.

The Slow-worm is relatively widespread within the county with some locations containing an abundance of the species but in other parts of the county it is apparently absent. In terms of shear numbers they are without a doubt our commonest reptile. They are typically found in areas of rough ground and are well suited to habitats containing tall herbs and grasses where it preys upon slugs, crickets, grasshoppers and young snails. They also like a compost heap in which to hibernate and give birth to their young. They will select discarded rubbish like a pieces of corrugated iron as a handy resting site. They are present in the Wyre Forest, Malvern Hills, Monkwood, Trench Wood and many other such undisturbed habitats. However, perhaps not surprisingly, they are far more abundant within urban situations than rural sites. A recent survey in Worcester found over 200 slow-worms on a 3ha semi-derelict allotment site, but none were found during a survey of another allotment site. Gardens and other urban habitats are more likely to satisfy Slow-worm requirements than rural sites. They probably occur in the majority of conurbation in the county, but so far we have very few records. If you know of any other such areas please pass on the information.

If any readers would like to participate in recording and researching Reptiles in 1997 we would be pleased to hear from them. And we need records!

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