Saturday, 5 February 2011

Gardens shelter snakes and lizards

I know that my garden supports a small number of frogs and toads. While the frogs were quick to lay claim to my new wildlife pond, spawning in the first spring after the pond had been dug, the toads show a more terrestrial existence, most often appearing on the patio on damp nights to frighten the dogs. The fact that our garden is walled on three sides and located in the middle of town, is probably sufficient reason for the lack of any other amphibians or reptiles. It is known that only the common frog readily penetrates the urban landscape, possibly because of its greater dispersive powers or, more likely, because it is assisted by householders moving spawn from one pond to another.

It seems that the range of reptiles and amphibians you can attract into your garden is, to a greater extent, determined by where your garden is located and the nature of the habitats that surround it. There are some gardens, recently built on former heathland sites in Dorset, that have visiting Adders and Smooth Snakes, the latter a rare species these days. Other rural gardens might support a thriving population of Great Crested Newts or Grass Snakes, and I know of gardens in Norfolk that have both. Less common in most Norfolk gardens is the Slow-worm, not a worm but a legless lizard, with a beautifully patterned body (in the case of the adult males).

Recent research has underlined that the features you have within your garden can also have an influence on which amphibian and reptile species you can support. Open compost heaps are used by Grass Snakes, the elevated temperatures within the mound of decomposing vegetable material help the Grass Snake’s eggs to develop, while stacks of logs and piles of rubble provide shelter for this and other species. There is a garden just down the road from here where the owner has placed sheets of corrugated tin at various points around his large, wooded garden, He now has an impressively large population of Grass Snakes and Slow-worms.

If you are an active gardener like me, then you are more likely to stumble across one of these garden-dwelling reptiles or amphibians but in many gardens they will go unnoticed. Having said this, cat owners sometimes find that their pet has delivered some unfortunate frog, Slow-worm or Grass Snake, which would otherwise have gone unnoticed. The impact of cat predation on some of our reptile and amphibian species might be quite significant, at least in terms of the numbers killed each year. There are likely to be other risks (lawn mowers and garden chemicals to name but two) so the garden can be a difficult place for some species.

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