...What Lurks Beneath?
by Forestry Commission Communications Manager, Libby Burke
Getting out in the forest is always a treat, and as the weather continues to improve at the time of writing, never more attractive. The lime-coloured leaves of spring are emerging – and native wildlife is stirring in the undergrowth, some less welcome to forest visitors than others…
Ticks are tiny blood-sucking insects sometimes found in woodland and heathland, particularly in places where deer live. They can attach themselves to passing animals and humans and some carry infections, the most serious of which is Lyme disease, although it is very rare.
The chances of getting Lyme Disease is very small, but we still encourage visitors to protect themselves and their dogs with insect repellent, to wear long trousers, brush their clothing down and check their skin for ticks before leaving. If a tick is found, it should be firmly removed with tweezers as soon as possible and a doctor consulted if you are at all concerned that any part of it may be left in your skin. Veterinary surgeries and countryside stores often stock ‘tick pickers’ for use on dogs, which are extremely effective at removal.
Diseases from ticks are not immediately contracted, they need to be attached to the body for at least 24-36 hours to transmit the disease and, when coming into contact with them, it should be possible to detect and remove them before any harm is done. The highest risk is in late spring and early summer when ticks are most active.
Also lurking amongst the heather, bracken and grasses is the adder - the only venomous snake native to Britain. Most adders are distinctively marked with a dark zigzag running down the length of the spine and an inverted 'V' shape on the neck. Males are generally white or pale grey with a black zigzag. Females are a pale brown colour, with a darker brown zigzag. But some adders are entirely black and can be mistaken for some other species. Why not take a trip to the New Forest Reptile Centre where you can identify them in safe surroundings!
Adders have the most highly developed venom injecting mechanism of all snakes, but they are not aggressive animals. Adders will only use their venom as a last means of defence, usually if caught or trodden on. No one has died from an adder bite in Britain for over 20 years. With proper treatment, the worst effects are nausea and drowsiness, followed by swelling and bruising in the area of the bite. Most people who are bitten were handling the snake. Treat adders with respect and leave them alone – and always wear good walking shoes to protect feet and ankles. Importantly, be aware when walking your dog, as the venom can have a more serious effect on them. Avoid heathland and scrub areas especially on warm days when adders bask in the sunshine, keeping your dog to paths and tracks where you can both see what is in front of you!
Bearing all of this in mind, your trip to and from the forest is likely to present far more risks than your visit within it. So enjoy the changing seasons, stay safe and get out in the woods!
To find out more about getting out and about in the New Forest, visit www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest.