THE Pulborough Brooks RSPB reserve may be home to adders but you would be very lucky to have a glimpse.
A spokeswoman said they are timid creatures which normally go unnoticed after the family of a nine-year-old who made the headlines recently after being bitten by an adder in Hampshire spoke up in support of snakes.
Tylar Butcher, who was holidaying in the New Forest, was rushed to hospital after being bitten while walking with her family.
Tylar’s grandfather, Bill Flitney, an RSPB member, contacted the national wildlife charity after the story was widely reported in the press, concerned that the incident may spark a public reaction against adders and wishing it be known that the family held no ill feelings towards the snakes.
Bill Flitney said, “Tylar has been very brave throughout. She’s getting over it very well and is in fact now developing quite an interest in snakes.
“We are all very keen to say that despite what happened we certainly don’t feel angry towards these creatures.”
Samantha Stokes, of the RSPB’s Pulborough Brooks reserve, said: “Many of our nature reserves, especially in southern England, are home to adders.
“They are normally quite timid creatures and will usually slip away unnoticed if humans are nearby, so you’d have to be very lucky to catch a glimpse.
“If you do get a chance to see them, they are particularly fascinating to watch during the mating period, when the male follows the scent of the female and flicks his tongue all over her body.
“And if a rival male approaches, the two males often end up intertwined in a ritual known as ‘the dance of the adders’.
“Some visitors are apprehensive when they hear there are snakes on the reserve, but when one does appear and we point it out, they often find it a thrilling experience.
“The chances of being bitten are almost zero – we’ve never had a report of an incident at Pulborough Brooks.
“They generally only bite if threatened, trodden on or cornered as they don’t really want to waste their venom on things that aren’t prey.”
The RSPB works closely with the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) on managing its land for the benefit of reptiles including snakes.
Nick Moulton, conservation officer for ARC, said: “There’s a lot of concern at the moment about falls in the number of adders in our countryside.
“Recent surveys are suggesting a third of our known populations are declining. Reasons for this include direct loss of habitats through development, and changes to land-management practices that have resulted in the loss of “scrubby and tussocky” grass areas that adders favour.
“More than ever, adders, as with many other reptiles and amphibians, need our support.”
ARC’s current campaign, ‘Sliding Scales’ aims to promote better awareness and conservation of snakes in the UK.
Nick Moulton says: “In 2009 ARC carried out an investigation into people’s attitudes towards snakes. The results were fascinating.
“Although six out of ten people interviewed had never seen a snake in the wild, half expressed either fear or unease towards snakes.
“We hope our campaign will better educate people both about the creatures themselves, and about the need to look after them in the wild.”