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British Snakes - The Grass Snake  

The Grass snake is the larger of three British Snakes, reaching up to five foot in length (although the do grow larger in warmer climes) and can be found throughout the southern regions of Britain, generally in areas close to water where it can find its favourite type of food, frogs and toads. One of the reasons it can survive the British climate is due to the fact that it hibernates away from October through to March and April, thus staving off the times when the sun is at its weakest, allowing the snake to only come out when it can get enough energy from the sun to survive.

As mentioned, these snakes are often found in areas where there are ponds, lakes or slow running rivers where frogs and toads live. Grass snakes are strong swimmers so can easily move through the water looking for prey, sometimes taking small fish or even the odd small mammal if their first choice isn’t on the menu.

Unlike the adder, Grass Snakes don’t have any venom so there is no real risk to humans if you come in contact with one, as with all snakes they are very shy and will slink off quickly if they feel the vibrations something approaching, that being one of the reasons why they are rarely spotted in passing. To see a grass snake you either have to get lucky or be very patient and very quiet around their natural habitat. Due to clearance of large areas traditional woodlands and wild areas Grass Snakes numbers have been drastically reduced in recent years to the point where they are now a vulnerable species.

Grass Snake in a Garden Pond
 Thanks to Ron Paterson for the photo.

Grass Snakes mate and lay between ten and 40 eggs in Spring and incubate them in their burrows for around 10-12 weeks, once hatched the little snakes head off on their own with many becoming lunch for a wide range of animals, very few making it through to adult life.

Typical places you can find a grass snake are amongst piles of dead and rotting plant material, they often hibernate and lay their eggs. Compost heaps in gardens are likely places, especially if there is a good healthy pond nearby which supports a population of frogs, toads and newts. Destruction of such habitats in people’s gardens is another reason why Grass Snakes, as well as other traditional British animals are on the decline.

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