Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Grass snake (Natrix natrix)

April - May 2017
The new tins had been numbered with Roman numerals. One of the rangers must have done that. They’re a sophisticated lot. We’ve been back in one of the more remote parts of the Gibside woodland, cutting back the tangle of bramble and honeysuckle that had taken advantage of the clearings we had carved out earlier in the year. We lopped down a few more birches while we were on, to let in more light. It is grass snake time again, and we were there to set up a new monitoring site in addition to the eight already dotted around the estate.
The new site
A log pile covered in honeysuckle

This site is a bit out of the way, bordered north and south by intermittent streams, and surrounded by trees – oak, rowan, ash, beech, wych elm, holly, hazel and lots of birch. Though predominantly trees, there are margins – streamside, field edge, nearby track side and, of course, the clearings themselves – where non-woody flowering plants thrive. Here there are bluebells, wood sorrel, ramsons, primrose, yellow pimpernel and the exquisite moschatel. In some parts, people refer to grass snakes as water snakes. Hereabouts there are a few ponds, and we’re not too far from the River Derwent – though it is uphill all the way. The streams might help.
A lovely wych elm tree near the site entrance

Wych elm seeds

The delicate flowers of moschatel


Yellow pimpernel

This sedge gave off clouds of pollen when touched

Anyway, with it being a new patch, it has new ACOs – artificial cover objects that is: bits of corrugated iron. These days they’re made of some other material, but we just call them tins.

The tins are there because, underneath, they make an ideal grass snake shelter and, on top, a fine basking place, making any snakes more visible to the observer. The numbers aid recording. And Natrix natrix might well be tempted by the Roman numerals, but don’t count on it.

An inquisitive Common pheasant
Steve Wootten & Phil Coyne


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Re: the Roman numerals - very simple reason... When painting on corrugated tin, it's much easier to just use straight lines!

    But we are also a very sophisticated lot, I won't deny it.