Snakes and lizards!
by Forestry Commission Recreation Ranger, Richard Daponte
My passion for all things small and scaly, damp and slimy is essential to my role as Recreation Ranger, as the New Forest is home to all six cold-blooded UK native reptile species. Over the past 14 years I’ve been involved with the Forestry Commission’s Reptile Centre, were you can see all six reptiles, Smooth Snake, Sand Lizard, Adder, Grass Snake, Slow Worm and Common Lizard.
As you look around the habitats, or ‘pods’ as we call them, you can try to spot the elusive Smooth snake, adder, or the bright colours of the male sand lizard.
We’ve successfully bred literally hundreds of rare sand lizards and natterjack toads over the years, as part of a national captive breeding and wild release programme organised by ARC (the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust) and have sent them off to top-up colonies in local heathland habitats, or (in the case of the natterjacks) pools in the Cumbrian National Park.
Each week during the summer, nervous-looking delivery staff carefully carry cardboard boxes full of holes to Queen’s House (FC offices). I willingly collect these, ferry them up to the Reptile Centre and distribute their hopping and scurrying contents amongst the ‘pods’ where the reptiles and amphibians live. These boxes are full of the live crickets and mealworms that will form part of the diet of the animals there.
Ten years ago, we were joined by partners the RSPB, New Forest National Park Authority and Carnyx Wild at the Reptile Centre, with the launch of the ‘Aren’t Birds Brilliant!’ project and more recently, ‘A Date with Nature in the New Forest’. Both of these projects have enabled the centre to be operated by staff and volunteers every day throughout the spring and summer, and the focus on birds and other wildlife has opened up the site for visitors to explore even more of the rich offerings within the new forest.
This year, ‘Raptorcam’ returned and focussed on a pair of Buzzards, as they reared their new chicks. Other features of the project include live footage from the ‘Feeder Cam’ which captured the goings on around the bird feeders near the centre.
‘A Date with Nature in the New Forest’ has now finished for the season, but the Reptile Centre remains open until 30 September and is free for all, although donations for parking are welcome.
Do make the most of the last few days that the centre remains open for this year. Signs of autumn are already beginning in the forest, with trees and bracken showing their rich colours, so now is a great time to enjoy the self-guided discovery trail, which starts at the Reptile Centre. This route is easy to walk and takes you in a loop back to the centre. Download the trail map that shows you the best places to stop along the way and look at wildlife as you walk. Visit http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/englandhampshirenoforestnewforestnewforestreptilecentre
So as the warmth of the sun begins to fade during the last days of September and the glorious summer finishes, why not take a trip to visit the creatures at the Reptile Centre… you never know what you might see!
For more information about activities in the New Forest, visit www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest