Friday, 20 March 2009

Snakes in the Valley: South Manchester Reptiles survey

It feels like spring has well and truly sprung into life this week with bumble bees fizzing around, more flowers emerging and the arrival of summer migrant birds such as the chiff chaff, but one question that some of the Friends are mulling over is are there any snakes or lizards in The Mersey Valley?

The answer is, we don’t know, and no one, we think, has previously carried out a survey to try and find out. In light of this, throughout the spring and early summer, a few of us have decided to carry out a survey which we hope will go some of the way to answering the question.

The UK only has 6 native reptiles, and we can say with a degree of certainty that if we are extremely lucky we might find 1 or 2 species in the Mersey Valley. Why? Because the others are either extremely rare and localized, like the smooth snake, or have very specific habitat requirements, like the sand lizard. Species that we might find are common lizard (Lacerta vivipara), slow worm (Anguis fragilis) and grass snake (Natrix natrix). For more detailed pictures and descriptions of all native reptiles visit: http://www.herpetofauna.co.uk/identification.htm

All reptiles are cold blooded, a characteristic in finding them we hope to exploit! They need to get enough warmth and energy into their bodies to move and go looking for food. The common lizard, for example, likes to bathe on sunny banks. Therefore, to maximise our chances of having positive surveys, we will be placing pieces artificial refugia on certain habitats. In other words, pieces of corrugated tin and tiles of carpet will be dotted around the meadows and a few other selected sites in the valley. Reptiles use these objects to either hide under, or to bask on so they can warm up enough to become active. Another element in successfully surveying for reptiles is the weather. It’s no good looking on a sunny, warm day because they will be active and unlikely to be seen, similarly on cool, wet days they will be hiding away conserving energy. The perfect weather is broken cloud and not too warm, whether that be early in the morning in the summer, or the middle of a spring day. On these days reptiles have to spend much more time basking, and the pieces of tin and carpet are places where we might find them doing just that.

Any findings will of course be posted onto the blog, but if you want more information about amphibians and reptiles then there are some useful links below, including a link to the recently formed Amphibian and Reptile Group of South Manchester.

If you, or anyone you know, has any sightings of reptiles in and around the Mersey Valley area, please let us know – any such data will of great use to our survey.

Richard Gardner

Amphibian and Reptile Group of South Manchester

Amphibian and Reptile Group of South Lancashire

The Herpetological Conservation Trust

Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK

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