Gardeners who want to help save Jersey’s rarest reptile from extinction are urged to leave their compost heap alone until October to avoid disturbing any baby grass snakes or incubating eggs.
The non-venomous and harmless reptile is the focus of a recently launched campaign ‘Think Grass Snake’ by the Department of the Environment.
Doctoral student Rob Ward of the University of Kent is carrying out research on ways to save Jersey’s only native snake. The grass snake relies on warm humid environments such as those found in compost and manure heaps to incubate its eggs, so protecting these nesting habitats is an important step in preventing extinction.
Female grass snakes lay 10-40 white leathery eggs of 25-30mm in June or July, and hatchling snakes of 16-18cm are emerging now until September.
While Mr Ward is keen to encourage the use of compost heaps as habitat for wildlife, including small mammals such as hedgehogs, amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates, he’s also asking gardeners to take a break from turning their heap for the moment, to give any possible eggs or hatchling snakes a chance to thrive.
“Compost and manure heaps are an incredibly valuable feature in gardens and natural areas for many species, especially so for grass snakes at this time of year. We’re asking people not to disturb or turn their compost heaps until October when any eggs should have hatched.
“We’ll also be checking a number of compost heaps for egg shells in early October, and would appreciate the public getting in touch if they find any egg shells in their heaps, or suspect that grass snakes may have been using their compost or manure heaps.”
The Department of the Environment needs help from the public so Mr Ward can build a clearer picture of where grass snakes are living and nesting, and how to protect them.
You can report sightings of egg shells, grass snakes and slow-worms on the Think Grass Snake campaign website www.ThinkGrassSnake.je, or by calling the dedicated telephone line 441628 (a ‘spotline’).
The site also provides facts and resources about amphibians and reptiles, and how to encourage them, including links to details on compost heap construction.