Working outside among plants is almost always pleasurable, but add in wildlife and it can be quite exciting and even lead to relocation missions. Such was the case with the grass snake (Natrix natrix) I came across in a walled garden. Grass snakes are usually associated with water and since the garden owner is terrified of snakes and had gone inside and locked the door, it was decided to relocate it outside the garden where there is an orchard and a large pond.
How to catch a snake
It's when you try to catch a grass snake that you realise just how fast they can move and it wasn't an easy task. Ducking behind and under plants, we followed the snake as it slithered at high speed along the base of the wall, eventually managing to catch it in a metal bin. Once there, it was taken to the grassy area outside the garden and released near the pond, where it quickly found its way through the grass to the water and a return to a peaceful existence.
Watch Miranda's video showing how to move a grass snake safely.
The grass snake is Britain's largest reptile and females can grow up to 1.5m (5ft) in length, with males being smaller. They are non-venomous so not dangerous, though they may excrete a foul smelling liquid from their anal glands if handled and may also play dead, rolling on their backs and letting their jaws sag open. They are timid and fast moving and not frequently seen, but can be found in compost heaps where it is generally warm and they can lay their eggs in comfort. Sometimes they can be seen basking on piles of stones in the sun. They may also be found hiding in compost heaps when they are preparing to shed their skins early in the year, soon after hibernation has ended. You can tell when skin shedding is about to happen because the covering over the snake's eyes turns a milky blue as it becomes loose.
Circle of life
Grass snakes eat amphibians, small mammals, fish and birds and this might make them an unattractive visitor for people wanting to encourage those species, but we need to remember that they in turn are food for foxes, badgers and larger birds, so part of nature's food chain. The amphibian charity Froglife say that grass snakes do not eat large meals often and are very unlikely to have an impact on amphibian populations. Regular sightings of grass snakes implies there is a reason for them to be there – food – and means the local environment is supporting their needs. Enjoy them when you see them!
** Please note the contents of this blog reflect the views of its author and are not necessarily those of the RHS **