The 'secretive and timid' smooth snake is sliding back into Devon's heathland

A A A

Britain's rarest snake is about to expand its range. In a pioneering wildlife project, the non-venomous smooth snake is to be re-introduced to Devon after a 50-year absence.

Currently found only on lowland heaths in Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire and Dorset, the smooth snake is not only rare, but is probably Britain's most elusive reptile. Grey-brown with black markings, it is secretive and timid, and is glimpsed far less frequently than our other two native snakes, the venomous adder and the harmless grass snake.

Historically, smooth snakes were more widespread, but disappeared from a wide area of southern England because of habitat loss. In Devon the last recorded sightings were in the 1950s. However, with the restoration of heathland over the past two decades, conservationists are now hoping to return Coronella austriaca to much of its former range, with Devon at the top of the list.

This summer, experts from the newly-formed charity Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) will collect 10 smooth snakes, under licence, from several well-populated sites in Dorset. The snakes will be taken to a special area of east Devon known as the pebblebed heaths, and released on a heathland nature reserve owned by The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

"This is a tremendously exciting project for us as it marks the beginning of what we hope will be the re-establishment of the species to Devon, and potentially a huge expansion of range for smooth snakes," said Nick Moulton from ARC, a group which was formed earlier this month when the charity Froglife merged with the Herpetological Conservation Trust.

"Historically, much of the former heathland areas have been lost to land use pressures, and the remaining sites are often fragmented and isolated," he said.

"The smooth snake is not very mobile and cannot naturally re-colonise isolated heathland sites. With this re-introduction, all we do is give the animals a helping hand to cross these areas. The East Devon heaths are in superb condition and very well managed, and we believe that the re-introduction has every chance of success."

The smooth snake is a priority species in the UK and the re-introduction is fully supported and licensed by Natural England, the Government's adviser on the natural environment, as well as having the help of the RSPB.

Smooth snake releases will continue every summer for the next few years to establish a healthy self-sustaining population.

Suggested Topics
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: We require a teacher of Science in this com...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of waste ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Representative

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To promote and sell the Company...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea