Rebecca Tilders reports:
I've always loved reptiles so it was hugely heartening to see such a large group of NRN members from Freeland, South Leigh and Eynsham gather at Eynsham’s Fishponds on Saturday 6th June to listen to Neil Clennell: herpetologist, Eynsham resident and CEO of the Wychwood Project. Neil drew our attention to how few reptiles we have in the UK; 3 lizards, namely, the slow worm, the common lizard and the sand lizard. We also have only 3 types of snake; the grass snake, the adder and the smooth snake. All six reptiles have suffered due to the elimination or even change of their environment. Housing and commercial developments have had an understandably negative effect on these reptiles as have shoddy or superficial environmental impact assessments.
We were cautioned that we would probably not see any reptiles except for perhaps slow worms but even they were secretive. The Fishponds do not really represent a stable environment for reptiles. It is too wooded, has too many stinging nettles and not enough basking sites. Only the slow worm, grass snake and - possibly - the common lizard are likely to be found at Fishponds.
True to Neil's word, no reptiles were found but tiles of roofing felt, referred to in this context as "refuges" were put in strategic areas to see if they would attract slow worms with their contained heat, and possibly grass snakes. Several people committed to going back and surveying these sites over the coming months. [Indeed, a few days later Phil Hodson wrote: “I did have a quick walk round yesterday lunchtime to see if I could spot the shelters and I did take a quick look under two and indeed there was a slow worm under one already which is fantastic!” ed.]
Both St Leonard's Churchyard and The Peace Oak Community Orchard, off Newland Street, were deemed to offer great habitats to the slow worm in particular. Surveys undertaken by NRN members last year revealed a healthy population of slow worms in both of these places and Hywel Edwards has seen a grass snake in Peace Oak.
We all came away much more informed about these shy, harmless creatures. Many thanks again to Neil and all your input. Anyone who missed the event but who would like to take part in the ongoing surveys, please contact us.
We are also hoping to start village-wide reptile surveys to understand how much habitat we provide for these endangered animals. Please let us know if you are up for taking part in Eynsham or the surrounding villages. All it requires is a square or two of roofing felt in an undisturbed slightly overgrown part of the garden and checking it a couple of times a week for occupants. If you don’t have an overgrown part of the garden… now is the time to sit back and let nature do its thing. If you supply the garden we can supply squares of roofing felt.