Don’t panic! It is likely to be one of the following:
If you see a large green or brown snake with a yellow collar it is likely to be a grass snake, as they can reach up to 1.2 m in length. Don’t worry – it is not poisonous nor aggressive. They hibernate from October to April and then may lay their rubbery eggs in places like the compost heap which is warm and moist. You are helping them if you don’t disturb the eggs, as their population has fallen over recent decades, largely due to development, habitat disturbance, and predation. You could try picking up the adults, but it is not advisable as they will hiss and may release a very smelly substance from an anal gland! Having a pond in your garden will provide them with food as the young snakes often feed on tadpoles, later switching to newts and then frogs and toads towards the end of the year. Be happy if your garden is supporting grass snakes!
This adder was seen on a drung (a steep walled pathway frequented by the stone miners) leading down to Monkton Combe. It’s the perfect place – adders love to bask in the sun as they are cold- blooded. There seems to be a colony in the cracks of the stone walls where they will hibernate over winter. Again, don’t worry about adders, as although their bite is poisonous, they are secretive and well-camouflaged, so rarely seen. They will glide away swiftly if disturbed, so many have walked up and down the drungs daily without ever catching a glimpse of them. This may be the only colony on the south side of Bath, so you are unlikely to see them in your garden, but do let us know of any sightings, preferably with a picture, so that these increasingly rare animals can be protected.
Not a worm, nor even a snake, a slow worm is a legless lizard and probably the most likely reptile to be seen in your garden. They are gentle and completely harmless, so if you or your children want to build up your reptile handling skills, this is the one to go for. If handled very roughly (by predators) they will shed their tails, so you might see some with very stubby tails. Slow worms are a privilege to have in your garden – apart from their smooth skin and delightful shiny metallic brown colouring they are valiant “bug busters”, eating insects and also those garden unfavourites, slugs and snails. We can help them by keeping an open, slowly decomposing, undisturbed compost heap or piles of sticks, prunings or logs, where they feed, hide and produce live young rather than eggs. Avoiding pesticides in the garden makes sure the slow worms have uncontaminated food to eat. A shallow bowl of water and/or shallow edges to a garden pond allows for drinking and a way for the slow worms to escape if they should accidentally enter the water.
By Ann Stuart