Come back, all is forgiven: Venomous adder may be reintroduced in London

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The Independent Online

The adder is not likely to win much public affection, even among animal lovers. Yet naturalists are planning to reintroduce it into the country's most heavily populated city, amid fears it could die out.

Britain's only venomous snake could be given new homes in London's disused quarries, railway embankments, landfill sites and commons as part of an ambitious strategy detailed in a new report for English Nature.

The report warns that London has only four surviving populations of adders, but three of those are so small they at risk of extinction because there are too few adult snakes to breed healthily. They also face persecution from humans.

The study's warnings have led conservationists to begin a new initiative to protect the last of the animal's strongholds over the next decade, at four secret sites in outlying areas of suburban London, by restoring and expanding their nesting grounds.

The snake, which can grow to 2ft in length and has striking white and black markings, was once common around the city. Recent estimates suggest there are about 130,000 adders nationwide. Attacks on humans are rare, running at about 90 incidents per year, and fatalities are rarer still, with only five recorded in the past century.

Will Atkins, the author of the report, argues that new adders will need to be introduced at several sites to "top up" their gene pool to ensure they do not die off through in-breeding.

It would be logistically difficult, he said, but eventually the total number of adder sites in London could double "if we were bolder and braver", as part of Ken Livingstone's plans to create more "wild land" in the city.

English Nature officials argue that their priority is to protect existing adder populations and do in-depth surveys of the animal's numbers in the capital, rather than try to find new sites.

The agency is also cautious about when it will introduce new adults to existing sites. "We very much need to do all we can to safeguard London's current populations," said Rachel Cook of English Nature.

ADDER MYTHS

ADDERS DON'T swallow their young to protect them. The myth springs from adders giving birth to fully formed live young rather than laying eggs.

ADDER REPUTED to have startled a soldier and so started the Battle of Camlann AD537, in which King Arthur (above) died.

ADDER SKINS said to cure rheumatism and headaches if wrapped around affected part. Powdered adder skin once seen as a treatment for spleen ailments and constipation.

ANCIENT DRUIDS believed adders symbolised rebirth - thought to be based on adders shedding their skins.

Thanks to adder.org.uk

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