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Forest Diary

Smooth snakeSearching for smooth snakes in the New Forest

 by Jay Doyle, Ecologist for the Forestry Commission

April is the month when reptiles and amphibians start to emerge. Spring has finally arrived in the New Forest and with it comes many of the UK’s most unusual and exciting species, including Britain’s rarest reptile, the smooth snake.

 We have over 90 people signed up to take part in the latest amphibian and reptile monitoring and surveillance project. The New Forest Smooth Snake Survey is the first project created by the New Forest Amphibian and Reptile Monitoring and Surveillance partnership and is coordinated by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC). The project will help establish the conservation status of smooth snake in the area and better inform the conservation management for this threatened species restricted to the heaths and woods in the South of England.

 The Forestry Commission is a key partner in this project and I’m particularly excited about finding this elusive snake in areas of the New Forest where its presence is currently uncertain. Last week, a few of my colleagues and I had a day’s training for all the partnership organisations involved and keen volunteers from the general public who will be carrying out reptile surveys in the New Forest.

The training events ran over two days on 8th and 9th April at The New Forest Centre (in Lyndhurst) and were attended by 50 potential survey volunteers comprising participants from Government organisations, conservation groups, wildlife specialists, students and members of the local community.

I was thrilled to participate in the event on Friday which was provided by John Wilkinson and Ben Limburn from ARC. The project is supported financially by Natural England, the New Forest National Park Authority and the Forestry Commission.

It was excellent to get involved with so many people that are enthusiastic about reptiles and their conservation, and the training was delivered to such a high standard. There is clearly a huge amount of interest in smooth snakes and participants were able to gain a great deal of knowledge from the presentations, which included species I.D, habitat identification, survey techniques/protocols, and the inherent health and safety issues.

After our class-based training we proceeded up to The Ridge, close to Boltons Bench on the edge of Lyndhurst, for a field visit to view reptile habitat and discuss survey techniques in more detail. The weather started off okay and as we headed out across the heathland the sky tuned blue – but sadly we didn’t observe any snakes!  Nevertheless, this provided ample opportunity to discuss the fine-scale habitat features that reptiles and smooth snakes in particular make use of throughout the year from their emergence in the spring, through the summer and into the autumn and their subsequent overwintering.

I’m looking forward to getting underway with surveying very soon, along with other volunteer surveyors that have been allocated an area which they will survey for smooth snakes, following the instructions and methods that have been provided by the team at ARC. 

For more information on reptiles and their conservation, plus the New Forest Amphibian and Reptile Monitoring and Surveillance Project please visit:


Last updated: 21st April 2016

England's Woods and Forests are cared for by Forest Enterprise England, an agency of the Forestry Commission.