23 June 2015
A scientist leading a campaign to save Jersey’s only native snake is asking people to take some simple measures to help the Island’s dwindling grass snake population lay their eggs safely.
Doctoral student Rob Ward of the University of Kent is working with the Department of the Environment on the ‘Think Grass Snake’ campaign, carrying out research on ways to save Jersey’s non-venomous and harmless grass snake.
The grass snake, Jersey’s rarest reptile, relies on warm humid environments, such as those found in compost and manure heaps, to lay and incubate its eggs, so protecting these nesting habitats is an important step in preventing extinction.
Vital egg-laying sites
June and early July are one of the most important times of the year for the grass snake; the females will have mated in the spring, and are now searching for vital egg-laying sites.
Rob, who’s been tracking grass snakes since the start of spring on various sites in the Island, is encouraging people to keep an eye out for grass snakes that may be using their compost and manure heaps for nest sites, and to report sightings all year round. He is also asking 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 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.’
Rob continued, ‘Any information from the public, no matter how small or insignificant, is extremely valuable and will make a real contribution to the protection of Jersey’s grass snakes. It all helps build a clearer picture of where they’re living and nesting and how to protect them, and will contribute towards a study which aims to stop the decline of these native reptiles.’
Sightings can be reported through the campaign website www.ThinkGrassSnake.je which has a quick, online survey for submitting sightings. The site provides facts and resources about amphibian and reptiles, and how to encourage them. There is also a dedicated telephone line 441628 (a ‘spotline’) for people to call if they see a grass snake or slow worm.
Grass snake facts
- the grass snake is Jersey’s only snake. It is completely harmless. It is different from a slow worm which is a legless lizard
- the grass snake is protected under the Conservation of Wildlife (Jersey) Law 2000
- adult grass snakes grow to about 80cm long, but can grow as large as 120cm long
- grass snakes feed mostly on amphibians (frogs, toads and newts)
- they are good swimmers and are often seen around ponds and streams, and can also be found in dry woods, hedgerows and meadows and visit gardens and farms
- grass snakes usually lay between 7-40 eggs eggs in compost heaps, manure piles and any other warm rotting vegetation
- the eggs are around 25mm in length, and are matt white with a paper/leathery texture
- the eggs are often found 'glued' together, and so it is unlikely to find a single egg by itself
- young grass snakes will hatch after an incubation period of around 70 days
- grass snakes are diurnal, which means they're active during the day
the best time to see grass snakes is after they emerge from hibernation in March - April but they can be seen until October