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Forest Tagging Team on The Trail Of Adder

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    Posted: 22 Oct 2006 at 5:56pm

11) Forest Tagging Team On The Trail Of Adders
Mark Branagan, 10/09/06, Yorkshire Today

The sight of Britain's only poisonous snake gliding through the undergrowth can be a fearsome surprise to the unwary.

But now scientists are going on safari in a woodland which could become one of the first in the country to have some of its adder population electronically tagged.

Next spring in Laughton Forest, near Epworth, about nine miles south of Sc**thorpe, environmental consultants will be attempting what will sound to many like a challenge from TV's Fear Factor.

Adders still drowsy from hibernation will be caught and placed in special pens where the only exit is a tube which then traps the snake by its head and fangs, leaving the tail exposed.

The snakes will then be released with a small radio transmitter on their tail. More wary adders may need to physically picked up while wearing venom-proof gloves.

Once the adders are tagged the research team will be able to track them from a safe distance with antenna equipment which bleeps whenever an adder glides by. The sightings will be plotted using GPS technology so a digital map can be put together of adder traffic.

The aim is to find out where the snakes go, and provide a measure of how many there are, so the forest can be managed in a way to protect the habitat of a species that has declined hugely in recent years.

It is part of a five-year project involving the Forestry Commission, Sheffield ecologist Tim Palmer, from Andrew McCarthy Associates, and Lincoln-based environmental consultants, ESL.

Forester Andrew Powers said: "There's a whole lot we don't know about adders and particularly the population in Laughton. Understanding more about their needs can only help in our conservation efforts.

"A key objective is to identify the long-standing routes they use to travel between hibernation and feeding sites. They tend to hibernate in the same place year after year. So putting a drain across an important route, or disturbing wintering sites, could be detrimental."

On Saturday the team was out spotting hibernation and feeding grounds, as well as actual snakes, so they know where to look next spring.

Adders are protected by law against being killed or injured, but attacks on people are still rare.

 

Taken from the herp digest,

 

I would be interested in others views on this project.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote arvensis Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22 Oct 2006 at 7:12pm
Its a interesting prospect but I'm wondering if the transmiter will affect the snakes ability to slough and darting to refuge at all?

Mark
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Suzi Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Oct 2006 at 6:11am

"Adders still drowsy from hibernation will be caught and placed in special pens where the only exit is a tube which then traps the snake by its head and fangs, leaving the tail exposed."

I just wondered if the special pens will be near the hibernaculum or some distance away. If some distance away might this be stressful to the adders?

If the method of tagging is not unduly upsetting to the adders it will be great to "see" typical routes and territories of adders and of course the areas that they actively avoid.

Suz
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Vicar Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Oct 2006 at 7:56am

Very interested to see how they attach the transponders.

Similar studies with Sand lizards involve glueing the unit onto the animal's back. Last time I heard, they only stayed on the animal for a matter of days.

There was no mention of gender bias either. I wonder if they're aiming to tag all snakes, or just the males (which more predictably migrate to feeding sites?).

I guess the judgment will be based upon whether they can generate useful data with minimal stress to the animals. Seems a little late in the season to be identifying hibernacula, I would have thought basing the survey on an observed area where the hibernacula locations were well known would have been a surer bet, but lets see what they produce.

The way the article is written does kind of suggest they are not used to handling adders, (what's all this 'special pen' business about?) but this could be editorial.

Sceptically interested :P

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Surrey Amphibian & Reptile Group
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote herpetologic2 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Oct 2006 at 3:19pm

 

Well I know Tim Palmer and he has spoken to me at length about this project which will be investigating the movement of the adders to and from their hibernation areas to foraging grounds - the radio tag would either be inserted inside the snake's body cavity or as in recent radio tracking studies attached to the snake with glue on its tail - the tag would be designed to be thinner than the thickest part of the snakes body so it can pass through vegetation

Various radio tagging studies have been undertaken on smooth snakes, grass snakes etc I believe that there seems to be no lasting harm to these snakes in movement etc

With the team monitoring the snakes probably on a daily basis I am sure any mishaps can be dealt with

I would like to get in touch with Tim so see if I could come along and help as I am considering a similar study of snakes relating to translocation

 

Jon

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote administrator Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 Oct 2006 at 4:17pm
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote tim palmer Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 Oct 2006 at 6:24am

Ta for the vote of confidence Jon!

Apologies to everyone for the rather dramatic prose contained within the newspaper article - well spotted by JF.  We will not be using 'pens' to capture the adders - blame journalistic licence for this one, but we will be using polycarbonate tubes as handling aids during the tag fitting process.  

I have not developed a full methodology for this project yet, so it might not happen next year, but the tags are probably to be embedded in a ring of epoxy resin around the base of the tail, following the contour of the body shape.  As the study will (initially) focus on dispersal corridors away from the hibernacula to summer feeding grounds, we would aim to tag young (non-breeding) males and non-breeding females.  We have already identified 5 hibernation sites from surveys last spring and will be monitoring these as a matter  of course.

All the funding for this lot will come from Forest Enterprise - they are realy getting behind the project (hence the press release) and are keen on developing a cogent management plan for the site which will properly address the potential impacts to reptiles through forest activities.

Our team does have lots of experience of survey and handling adders and we are all treating the welfare of the animals as the highest priority - no need for anyone to worry on this score.

T.

Jon - you are welcome to come and have a look at a decent Northern reptile site, anytime.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote administrator Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 Oct 2006 at 11:55am
Thanks for taking the time Tim to clear up a few points from the article, I'll echo Tony's request and ask if possible that you can keep us informed about he project.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote tim palmer Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 Oct 2006 at 12:35pm
Certainly do intend to keep all informed. By the way, does anyone know if W. Cresswells radio tagging research ever got written up/published? I know he was doing some adder tagging for HA studies a few yaers ago.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote mark bannister Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 Dec 2007 at 3:46pm

Hi Tim,

Do you have an update on your adder work in Laughton forest?

I know the site quite well and usually have several trips there looking for adders and grass snakes in early spring.

I am quite concerned about their future due to the recent planting up of the best bit of heathland in the whole area, adjacent to several of their hibernacula.

Regards,

/Mark

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