Adders on Litcham Common

The European Adder, or Common Viper, is one of Britain’s three native snakes and our only venomous reptile and we are fortunate to have a population living on Litcham Common.
What do adders look like?
Male adders usually have silvery-grey colouration, while females can be copper or brown.  Both have a distinctive, black zig-zag pattern along their backs.  Fully black adders can be seen in some areas too.  Once fully grown, adders usually measure between 60 and 80cm in length.  Young are almost perfect replicas of adults and measure around 17cm in length at birth.
Hibernation
Adders hibernate through the coldest part of the year.  From around October to March they sleep in sheltered, dry spots such as old rodent burrows or within fallen trees.  A few years ago a member of our conservation group got more than she bargained for when pulling up a bramble by the roots to find a sleeping adder underneath, which was swiftly covered over again to resume its slumber.  
The males come out of brumation (a type of hibernation for cold-blooded animals) first, with the females being spotted within the following 2 to 5 weeks.
After a couple of weeks of the males emerging, they shed their skin.  Next on their mind is to mate.  Once the females are “awake” they leave a scent from a gland at the base of their tail.  The males will smell this, and follow it to find the female.  They then writhe their body over the female, flicking their tongue in and out in a courtship ritual before settling down to copulate.
Dance of the adders
If a second male comes across the female then the first will stop the courtship to defend his possible mate.  What follows is a beautiful and elegant display which is known as the “Dance of the Adders”.
The “dance” usually only involves two snakes, but can number many more.  It is a test of strength and stamina with each male trying to force the other to the ground.  They can raise the first half of their body up off the ground before trying to push the other male down to the ground.  The males will completely intertwine their bodies together while trying to force each other out, and often show very staggered and jerky movements.  This ritual can last for several minutes and often happens on many occasions over many days.  During the “dance” they never try to bite each other, but just keep competing with strength until one of them gives in and slinks off quickly into cover.
Unlike some snakes, adders do not lay eggs and instead give birth to up to 20 live young in late summer.  The species has been known to live for more than ten years, although it can sometimes fall victim to other predators, such as birds of prey, crows and even pheasants, especially when young.
What do adders eat?
Adders feed primarily on small mammals, such as voles and mice, and lizards.  They will also eat frogs, newts and small birds and their chicks.  They are active during the day.
Unlike grass snakes which constrict their prey, adders use their venomous bite to subdue their meals.
Where do adders live?
Adders are found across Britain but are absent from Ireland.  They are associated with open habitats such as heathland, moorland and woodland edges.
The adder is the most northerly-occurring snake species in the world and has been recorded within the Arctic Circle.
Signs and spotting tips
Your best chance of seeing an adder is in spring, when they are emerging from hibernation and spend the early part of the day basking in sunlight.  They are sensitive to vibration and quick to slip away when they feel footsteps approaching.
Aware of the Adder’s love of sunshine, and the need to tread carefully, Shakespeare wrote: “It is the bright day that brings forth the Adder, and that craves wary walking” [Julius Ceasar, Act II, Scene 1]
In fact these snakes are shy creatures that will naturally retreat from humans.  It is rare for adders to bite people, but this can happen if humans try to handle them or accidentally step on them.  To quote Spike Milligan:
“There’s nothing madder than a trodden on Adder!”
What to do if bitten by an adder
Adder bites are rarely fatal, but can be very painful.  NHS guidelines suggest that medical treatment should be sought immediately.  In the meantime you are advised to:

  • remain calm and don’t panic;
  • try to remember the shape, size and colour of the snake;
  • keep the part of your body that’s been bitten as still as possible to prevent the venom spreading around your body;
  • remove jewellery and watches from the bitten limb as they could cut into your skin if the limb swells;
  • do not attempt to remove any clothing, but loosen clothing if possible.

Slightly more commonly, dogs will be bitten, often on the nose, due to their natural curiosity.  Guidance is to seek immediate advice from a vet and in the meantime keep the animals calm and as still as possible, carrying the dog if it is small enough.  Again, bites are rarely fatal.
Threats and conservation
The UK’s adder population is in decline.  Habitat loss is thought to be the leading factor in this worrying trend, with both intensive agriculture and increases in woodland cover destroying suitable habitat and causing adder populations to become fragmented and isolated.  The species is fully protected by law.
Sightings of adders
We are keen to build up a picture of the population size and location on the common and would be grateful to receive reports of any adder sightings, including the date, location and a description of the snake (for example its size and colour).  Please report sightings to Tim Angell who can be contacted on 01328 700045.

LITCHAM COMMON

Following their absence last year we are hoping that cattle will once again join the ponies on the common for the next few months, possibly arriving in April or May.  Cattle will compliment the conservation grazing carried out by our ponies, with the aim of maintaining a diverse sward of heathland vegetation and preventing the more vigorous plant species from dominating.

As always, please observe the following rules:

– Do not attempt to touch or feed the animals

– Dogs should be kept under close control at all times

Thank you for your cooperation.

Conservation Group
The next conservation task will take place on Saturday 11th April, meeting at 10am in Litcham Common car park.  As always, new volunteers will be welcome.Please telephone Tim Angell on 01328 700045 for more information.

 

Litcham Common

The Hole!
Some people will have noticed the big square hole in the turf not far from the corral.  This is where someone has dug up and taken away a holly tree.  Contrary to popular belief all commons have an owner, in the case of Litcham Common this being Lexham Hall Estate, and the removal of plants, trees or logs without permission is theft.  In addition, Litcham Common is governed by bylaws which prohibit ‘removing or damaging any plant or other vegetation whether living or dead’ without permission.  Please ask a member of the common’s management committee before taking things from the common; we like to think we are a reasonable group of people! (And for the absolute avoidance of doubt, we have no objection at all to activities such as picking blackberries!) A full copy of the bylaws can be viewed on Litcham’s website at the bottom of the Litcham Common tab headed ‘Management’.

On a more positive front, we are very grateful indeed for the way in which many regular users of the common help care for it, for example by removing litter as they walk round or reporting any problems they spot.  Thank you.

Conservation Group
The next monthly conservation task will take place on Saturday 10th August starting at 10am.  Please contact Tim Angell on 01328 700045 if you are interested in joining us.

Litcham Common Conservation

Our next conservation task with be on Saturday 20th July starting at 10am, when we will continue the work of digging up ragwort. New recruits will be welcome and tools/protective gloves supplied. Please contact Tim Angell on 01328 700045 for more information.

Guided walk on Litcham Common
Monday 8th July: 10am to 12noon

As part of Commons Week Nick Acheson from the Norfolk Wildlife Trust will be leading a “wildlife wander” on Litcham Common showing you the wildlife that makes this site so special. No need to book; just turn-up and join-in.
Meet in the car park on the Dunham Road, PE32 2NT