I have been writing a short piece in the Grantham Canal Society newsletter each month for the last three years – I thought it would be fun to share these little snippets on here! If you would like to subscribe to the digital newsletter which drops into your inbox once a month, or look at older issues, visit their website here:
January 2018 – Long tailed tits
A walk down the towpath in January is likely to be accompanied by the flutter of wings and warning calls as birds forage in the path-side hedgerows. One of the smallest species in the UK is likely to be among them, but far from being discreet they make their presence disproportionately known as they forage.
Long tailed tits, weighing just 9g, are highly social birds – they move through the landscape in flocks of closely related individuals, maintaining a shrill ‘si-si-si’ call-and-response as individuals keep in touch. Their aim, at this time of year especially, is to forage for enough high-value food to keep their tiny bodies warm enough to survive. They seek invertebrate prey by preference, capitalising on their low weight to pick food such as moth eggs as well as other invertebrates from the higher reaches of twigs and leaves which their heavier counterparts are unable to reach.
At night, the flock remains together, nestling down in a shrub or tree to form a dense ball with just their tails sticking out. As spring marches on, they will be building their tiny nests out of moss, lichen and spiders webs, lined with feathers. Interestingly, they are also social at nesting time – they will try to pair up and nest on their own but if unsuccessful, they will help at the nest of a close relative.
Listen out as you walk this winter – the distinctive call will alert you to the presence of these charming little ‘flying teaspoons’!
I had the opportunity to borrow a trailcam last year and I took the opportunity to see what wildlife could be recorded along the banks of Grantham Canal. The trailcam triggers when it detects movement and can record at night so placing it along animal trails allowed me to see what creatures used them.
Below are a few clips of some of the animals I recorded. These show how important the Grantham Canal is to a wide range of wildlife, not just in terms of the aquatic habitats it provides but the hedgerows, trees and shrubs which run alongside it – ten different mammal species were recorded over a few weeks of deployment and this is alongside at least five species of bat which I recorded last September – you can read more about the bats along Grantham Canal here.
I recorded muntjac deer on a number of occasions. These are small deer, around the same size as a medium-sized dog. They are not a native species – they are originally from China but were introduced to the UK in Bedfordshire and have since spread to be present throughout the British Isles. Other deer such as roe deer are also present in the wider landscape around Grantham Canal but I did not record any on the trailcam.
Foxes make use of the habitats along the Grantham Canal with the trailcam recording both adult and juveniles. The traditional agricultural view of foxes is that they are vermin, but they are a native species of mammal in the UK, fulfilling quite an unique niche now that we have exterminated the wolves, lynx, wildcats and other larger predators which historically existed in the UK. In the first clip of the recordings, you can see a younger fox mark its territory as it walks past.
Badgers move out from their main setts each night and find food within the wider countryside. Foraging areas change throughout the year depending on the use of the land and the conditions. Sheltered linear features such as the canal banks provide an important connective route to allow them to reach these foraging areas. The habitats within the canal corridor are also likely to provide important foraging areas in their own right.
Hares differ from rabbits in that they do not use burrows – rather they rest in ‘forms’ which are low depressions in the land, often under the cover of long grasses or other vegetation. They forage and spend much of their active times in the arable fields which bound the canal through much of its course, but the trees and shrubs within the canal corridor provide an important place of rest and shelter during the daytime.
Rabbits shelter in burrows and many of these burrows can be found along the banks of the Grantham Canal. The slope of the banks mean that they can tunnel sideways rather than down to create their warrens, which requires less energy and is therefore more efficient. They graze upon low growing vegetation within the Canal Corridor but also use the wider arable fields which bound much of the canal.
I only recorded one instance of a stoat along the Grantham Canal. These are small predators, larger than a weasel but smaller than a ferret or a polecat. As you can see from the clip, they are very agile and feed on other small mammals such as rats and rabbits which are plentiful along the canal route.
The grey squirrel is another invasive species which will be familiar to everybody, whether you live in the city or the countryside. In the autumn, the squirrels kept very busy gathering nuts and storing them away underground to be unearthed through the winter and spring when food was scarce. The horse chestnut, hazel and beech trees along the Canal would provide a good source of nuts to store away, whilst the glut of berries from the hawthorn, blackthorn and rose bushes would keep them in good health whilst they work.
The American Mink is another species which is not native and yet has found itself a home along the Grantham Canal, along with many other rivers and watercourses across the UK. I was very surprised to catch this one descending a tree just in front of the trailcam – not usual behaviour but something which they are known to do, especially when escaping a predator or perhaps when seeking food such as birds nests. The second piece of footage, showing the mink skulking away with its high arched back is more characteristic.
Other species recorded by the trailcam include rats, mice, herons and a variety of other small birds such as blue tits, great tits, chaffinches and blackbirds. Pheasants too often stroll along the banks and scratch for food morsels within the soil.
It’s very nearly Halloween – what better time to introduce you to the bats which haunt Grantham Canal when darkness falls…
I spent several nights this September cycling along Grantham Canal with an EM3 bat detector connected to a GPS unit, recording the bats in flight between the A1 to the east and Hickling Basin to the west. Bats use echolocation to navigate and hunt and the bat detector converts this ultrasonic sound into something we can hear. The sound emitted by the detector tells you when a bat is there, often which species it is and sometimes even what it is doing.
You might imagine that this is quite a sinister place to be, surrounded by bats on a moonlit night, but there really is nothing to be afraid of! As the detector tapped and pattered away to announce their, I could see bats flying before me in the darkness. But even though I was cycling towards them, they elegantly avoided me every time, never making contact and certainly never tangling in my hair. This is one of the most enduring myths about bats but their fantastic echolocation abilities mean that they can ‘see’ and avoid obstacles on even the darkest of nights.
I recorded at least five species in September, some calls with ‘buzzes’ indicating foraging and some with ‘song flight’ where male soprano pipistrelles emit lower frequency social calls to attract mates. These are just on the edge of human hearing and can be heard without a detector – you may have heard the very high frequency chirrups if you walk outside at dusk in the autumn.
The common pipistrelle is our most abundant species in the UK, and was encountered throughout the route of the canal, particularly where there are more trees as this species specialises in hunting along ‘edge’ habitat which is typically along hedges, tree lines and other landscape features.
The soprano pipistrelle is very similar morphologically and was not even identified as a separate species until 1992. Now they can be told apart confidently in their hand, and with fair reliability acoustically as the soprano pipistrelle calls at 55 kHz compared with the common pipipstrelle at 45 kHz. In England, the soprano pipistrelle is often found associated with water and so it was no surprise to find them along the canal. An interesting observation however is that there appears to be much more activity to the east, near to larger water bodies. Denton Reservoir lies just beside the canal towards the eastern end and is likely to be an important foraging resource for this species.
The vast majority of the recordings related to these two pipistrelle species – the other bat species were found at much lower frequencies.
The noctule bat is our largest species and tends to fly high and early, often the first bat to appear around sunset and can be seen in the skies as the swifts are still on the wing. Only one noctule was heard during the transects, between Denton and Woolesthorpe and picked up again near Muston. This bat is large and the sky was light meaning I could watch it flying my way, foraging as it flew to the west. This is a widespread species which favours roosting in trees, but numbers are generally lower than the pipistrelles.
Brown long-eared bat
Brown long-eared bat is one of our quietest but most charismatic bats. Their large ears make them quite charming to behold, and they are frequently found roosting in barns and other buildings. I only picked up a single instance of this bat, but their very quiet echolocation means they are generally under-recorded.
The myotis bats are considered to be some of the most difficult to identify from sound alone. Daubenton’s bats are the myotis species most frequently associated with water as they specialise in flying low over still waters and taking insects on the wing or from the water’s surface. Natterer’s bat is another myotis species and some of the calls recorded along the canal in September are characteristic of this species. Whiskered and Brandt’s bats are the other two myotis species which are likely to be present in this part of the country. These two bats are very similar to one another and are difficult to separate even in the hand. Some of the calls have the characteristics of one (or both) of these two species. Whilst these species are not commonly associated with aquatic habitats, the canal also boasts hedgerows, copses and grass bank margins which provide great terrestrial habitat as well.
I encountered a whole host of other species whilst cycling along in the afterglow of sunset including barn owls, tawny owls, hares fleeing down the towpath and badgers snuffling in the hedgerows. The canal is stunning in the daytime but at night it comes alive with a whole host of new species – a walk around sunset might reveal creatures which you would not normally be privileged enough to watch.
If you are looking to commission bat surveys in the Midlands area, check out Landscape Science Consultancy’s website here!
The Arum Lily is a fascinating plant which stands out from the crowd throughout its life. The latin name is Arum maculatum but it has many old English names, the two most common being Lords and Ladies and Cuckoo Pint.
In the spring, the leaves unfurl, growing and turning out of the bare ground before most other plants are beginning to burst their buds.
From the cluster of lush dark-green heart-shaped leaves arises the flower, a creamy white wrap-around cone with a peaked tip. Within this white cowl – actually a bract rather than a flower – dwells the spadix which is a purple tower of tiny inflorescences.
Looking down into the centre of the flower from above gives a unique view reminiscent of a plasma ball, the looping tendrils creeping like electricity made visible.
The flowers die back and the leaves soon follow and you could all but forget about the lily through mid-summer. Then in late summer and early autumn, it asserts itself once more as the berries become apparent, growing from the spadix which is all that remains of the flower. These fruiting spikes are reminiscent more of a mushroom than a flower, appearing alone on a solitary leafless stalk where the berries soon shade from bright green to brighter red.
This is a fairly common species can be seen throughout the UK in hedgerow bases and woodlands. They are a plant of shady habits and often represent the only species where the darkness is densest under the closer canopies.
I stopped off at Harlaxton Wharf on a cycle along the canal and got somewhat waylaid identifying the flowers there – for a very small square of land, you will find many species of wildflower! These include many species planted intentionally, using Naturescape seeds and the assistance of the Princes Trust when the Wharf was restored. Others, including some of the more understated species but also some of the most impressive, are centuries-old inhabitants of the Grantham Canal bankside. I have run through a whirlwind description to help you identify the species which are there – I may have missed some so please let me know if you spot anything else whilst waiting for a Canal Boat ride from the Grantham Canal Society – more info about the trips which leave from the Wharf can be found here and details of the renovation works are here. There is also a gallery of photographs of the wildflowers, arranged by colour, to help you with identification.
If you are visiting before July then the big flashy purple flowers from tall grey/green plumes of vegetation are corncockle (Agrostemma githago). Large herbaceous plants with purple flowers after this stage are the more likely to be the later flowering rosebay willowherb (Epilobium angustifolium), the plants of which can grow to 2m tall with their purple flowered trumpets topping a tower of lanceolate leaves. If the last description sounds right, bar the size, then the more diminutive broad-leaved willowherb (Epilobium montanum) might be your species – this grows no more than 50cm in height and is altogether more delicate than the big bruiser which is rosebay. The fluted flowers often shade from white to pink as they mature.
Greater knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa) is also growing here – the flowers are almost thistle-like but are plumed with tendrils at the petal tips. The colour is blue with a tinge of purple and the leaves are unlike thistles completely – robust fleshy and smooth green leaves with none of the spikes associated with thistles.
The large familiar yellow flowers growing from a rosette of toothed leaves (dandelion coming from the French: Dents de Lion) are your common or garden dandelion (Taraxacum officinale agg.). Watch out too for smaller, finer flowered versions – these are autumn hawkbit (Leontodon autumnalis) and they are not in flower until later in the year, as the name suggests.
Common nettle (Urtica dioica) should be known to most – if it stings you then you have your identification. The flowers on this are non-descript to say the least, fine tassles of tiny flowers in a sting-bead. If your ‘nettle’ has flowers then check the colour. There are a number of non-stinging ‘dead’ nettles and two of these are found at the Wharf. Luckily, their colour gives them away – white dead-nettle (Lamium album) is white whilst red dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) is red. There are other differences to tell the apart – the key characteristic is size and stature – if your deadnettle is approaching the structure of a stinging nettle then it is most probably white. Red is much less sturdy, often lower to the ground with finer leaves. There is a third option for a species with nettle-like leaves but no sting and this is hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) – this has spikes of purple flowers which look almost orchid like. The best test here is scent- if there is a powerful unpleasant scent from the crushed leaf (certainly not like anything else I have ever smelt) then this is your species!
Taller flowers of red or white on long flower stalks with soft ovoid leaves are the red campion (Silene dioica) and the white campion (Silene latifolia). Again, there are other campions to choose from – the bladder campion can be seen out in the limestone swards of The Drift or the Viking Way – but only these two species are on the Wharf. Colour is key to ID!
Rounded, softly serrated leaves and a noticeably squared stem identify common figwort (Scrophularia nodosa). The flowers are deep red but tiny – at first glance you might think them buds waiting to burst into an exciting rich flower but closer inspection reveals them to be at the height of their glory.
Buttercups come in different shapes and sizes and two can be found here beside the canal – creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens) is a very common species which is often found in damper places – a wet flush in a pasture field will often be stained yellow with the flowers. Other species are also common and a second can be found here – bulbous buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus) differs in the leaf and structure but the key ID is in the flowers – the sepals (these are the green beneath the flower) are reflexed, that is they are peeled back like a banana and pressed against the stem below. Earlier in the year, you will see buttercup-like flowers but these could well be lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria). The flower petals of this species are more pointed than the very rounded petals of the buttercups and the leaves are round and shiny rather than serrated and dissected like those of the buttercups. For similarity of name rather than similarity of plant, I will also mention the greater celandine (Chelidonium majus). This is no relation to the lesser celandine but shares a name nonetheless. Greater celandine is in the cabbage family and is a much larger, more foliose plant. You get a lot of leaf for your flower!
Spiky plants next: there are three purple-flowered thistle species to be seen. The biggest, boldest thistle with spikes which look as though they have the ability to impale are the spear thistle (Cirsium vulgare) – think of the spikes as spears for an easy way to remember. There are too smaller species which look as though they could just give you a nasty prickling – here the key difference to tell them apart is the presence of spiky leaflets on the main stems – welted thistle (Carduus crispus) has them whilst creeping thistle (Cirsium arvensis) does not. To confuse matters ever so slightly further, there is another similar species you will see which is in fact a sowthistle rather than a thistle – the thistles all have purple flowers whereas the sow thistle has yellow flowers. The prickly sow thistle (Sonchus asper) has spikey leaves which wrap around their stem. A smooth version of this called, appropriately enough, a smooth sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) grows alongside it.
Of very different structure, but on the theme of spikes, are the white-flowered bramble (Rubus fruticosus agg.) which rambles along the ground and up through adjacent shrubs and trees. It should be familiar to anybody who has been blackberry-ing. Also instantly recognisable is the rose which grows wild here – the curved thorns and open white-pink flowers should be immediately recognisable to genus. This species is the dog rose (Rosa canina).
The tall, white-flowered umbellifers are another distinctive group – their flowers are in umbels which can be thought of as umbrellas for an easy visual clue. The leaves vary but are generally divided to a greater or lesser extent – lots of ‘empty space’ within the leaf footprint if you will. If the leaves are big and bold, divided into big lobes then you have hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium). Then there is the notorious ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria) – if you have it in your garden then you can pick it out of a line-up. The leaves appear directly from the ground very much like the leaves of the elder after which it is named. This will also send up dense heads of white flowers in a compact cluster. If it is neither of these, then next check is the stem – if there are purple dots of blotches then you have the highly toxic hemlock (Conium maculatum) – back away slowly and for goodness sake do not touch or eat. This leaves two other umbellifers which flower at the wharf and the simplest way to differentiate is to ask what time of year it is. Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) is a big, brash species which flowers early in the spring and is generally going over by the end of May. This is superseded by the smaller, finer, more delicate hedge parsley (Torilis japonica) which flowers for the remainder of the summer.
Two primrose species are to be found – a line of wild primrose (Primula vulgaris) grow along the bank with their pale yellow, individual flowers which are open and relatively large with wavy, indefinite edges. By contrast the cowslip (Primula veris) has groups of tighter, more enclosed flowers which hang together – a brighter yellow in colour with flecks of orange.
Ivy (Hedera helix) should need no introduction – a creeping plant with glossy green heart-shaped leaves. The flowers in the autumn are a great nectar source – clusters of small black sphered which look something like a tiny bunch of black grapes.
Some of the largest leaves on the Wharf belong to burdock (Arctium lappa) – these are greyish green above and whitish green below. The burdock flowers are fairly insipid but the seeds are a ball of hooks which fall apart to individual hooked seeds when you try to pick them apart when snagged on hair or clothes.
Another species which will stick to you if it has a chance is cleavers (Galium aparine). This has tiny four-petalled white flowers and grows in long strands, often creeping and climbing its way through other vegetation, with little whorls of leaves intermittently up its stem. There are a number of galium species in the UK but this is the most common and the only one which will stick to your jumper with ease!
There are a number of small plants with purple flowers and a more or less creeping characteristic – I will tell you about each in turn. Plants with little deep-purple trumpet-shaped flowers and ivy-shaped leaves – these will be the ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea). If the leaf description sounds right but the flowers do not, then perhaps the delicate trailing ivy-leaved toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis) is your species – these flowers have three lower petals and two upper with a yellow patch in the centre. If the purple flowers are star-shaped with fine green filigree foliage and red-wine stems then it is probably herb Robert (Geranium robertianum). Finally, if the plant has a more upright character with purple pea-like flowers and tendrils on the ends of the pinnate leaf stems, then this will be the common vetch (Vicia sativa).
A species which stands apart from the others is Lords and Ladies or Arum lily (Arum maculatum). The deep-green, often dark-flecked waxy leaves emerge straight from the ground in the early spring with the pale hooded flower rearing up soon afterwards with the long purple flower spike below. The action is all over by mid-May with the green berries appearing on a low spike, turning to red in the autumn.
Small yellow flowers on a substantial plant could be wood avens (Geum urbanum) – these leave a strange seed something like a strawberry after the flower has been fertilised and the flower lost. Nipplewort (Lapsana communis) is a taller species with a number of yellow flowers present in a very diffuse ‘head’. The flowers on the former have five distinct petals whilst the latter is a composite flower – it is a member of the daisy family – and has a larger number of yellow florets which somewhat crowd into one. If your plant is much lower to the ground, with red-flecked yellow pea-like flowers and clover-like leaves, then it will be bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus). A final yellow-flowered possibility is the low, fleshy groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) whose flowers look perpetually as though they are just about to emerge – a bud waiting to burst. It never will – the flower rivals figwort for the disappointment following from bud to flower.
Clover-like flowers and clover-like (three-leafed) leaves growing close to the ground or sometimes bubbling and swelling into a mound is the white clover (Trifolium repens). This is a creeping plant and will rarely be found with individual flowers and leaves. A discreet, compact little plant with a flower spike of tiny white flowers to only 10cm high and leaves like lines of diminishing green coins laid out along the stem will be wavy bitter-cress (Cardamine flexuosa). A creeping, clambering plant with as much green sepal as white petal on the flower will be common chickweed (Stellaria media). A much more upright plant will be garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) – rub the leaves and release the faint smell to confirm the ID but be warned that this does not confer the taste to food it is used in cooking, unlike wild garlic which is found up in Belvoir Woods and out east at Belton House amongst others.
Multiple blue flowers with small, soft, green leaves like the ears of some small creature? Water forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpioides). And no, despite the name, this will be growing on the banks of the Wharf rather than in the canal itself.
Two poppy species are flowering here; the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) has flowers which are an insipid but delicate shade of purple with grey-green foliage. The more familiar common poppy (Papaver rhoeas) can also be seen – these are the archetypal poppy with the deep red leaves and the black centre.
The old childhood adage said that where there are nettles to sting, there is dock to relieve. I never found this to be true but there are two species of dock to be seen. The big, bold, cumbersome species is broadleaf dock (Rumex obtusifolius). A smaller species with long, narrow pointed leaves and red veins is the wood dock (Rumex sanguineus).
Even amongst the gravel beside the water there are species which find a home. The tiny pearlwort (Sagina procumbens) holds tiny (really tiny) green pearl-like flowers aloft from fine-leaved foliage which ambles and spreads from the base. The whole plant is usually only a few centimetres in any direction. A bigger jumble of fennel-leaves with yellow and white flowers is the pineappleweed (Matricaria discoidea) – again a crush of
the leaves and a sniff should reveal the truth of the name.
I have left until last the most effusive and the most unimpressive flowers – I will deal with the latter first. The fat hen (Chenopodium album) flower is a mealy, beady insipid-red affair which you would struggle to even notice. The leaves always remind me a little of dinosaur footprints – this is a plant which will generally pass everybody by although it does make good eating! By contrast, the ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) – like the garden variety but blown up to gigantic proportions with crinkle-cut leaves and a big yellow centre is fairly unmistakable.
I had something of a surprise when out walking along the Grantham Canal at the weekend. A friend posted a cracking photograph of a mink on twitter (and now on her blog which you can read here) which was seen along the stretch between Harlaxton and Denton. This is a non-native species and can cause serious damage to the ecosystem through their predation on native species of fish, birds and water vole. However, it is argued that, as these are all food sources for the native otter, the non-native mink is filling a currently vacant ecological niche for a semi-aquatic carnivorous mammal in our waterways. Whilst the grey squirrel competed with the native red in a similar way to the detriment of the reds, there is good evidence to suggest that the re-colonisation of a watercourse by otters will lead to the displacement of the smaller mink and so the native species would win out in the end. Whilst we wait, and hope, for otter to continue their spread through our native watercourses, the mink could be seen as its understudy. They can however cause serious problems in some locations, especially where they prey upon the eggs of sensitive bird species, and eradication programmes are in place in a number of locations to remove them. I have only once seen a mink along the canal, on the stretch by Woolesthorpe some years ago, and was keen to see another.
I was scanning the edge of the canal as we walked along and was taken aback to see a completely different non-native species instead – a red-eared terrapin (Trechemys scripta elegans) basking out of the water on a log! This individual was around 30-40cm which is adult sized. These reptiles, originally from the Americas, were popular pets in the 1980’s and 1990’s following the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on childrens’ TV. They tended to out-grow their confinements and many of the more irresponsible owners simply released them into the wild. They can live for several decades and so this specimen could have been in the canal for a long period of time. The sale of these species does continue however so it could be a more recent arrival.
The terrapins feed on aquatic invertebrates and amphibians and so, like the mink, are a cause for concern in British waterways. Whilst the mink is quite able to breed and spread throughout the UK, there is less concern about the terrapins at present – they require around 100 days of >27 degrees or 60 days of >30 degrees for the eggs to successfully hatch and the young to develop which is rarely achieved in a British summer. This puts the terrapin into a different category to the mink – whilst they are not desirable, they are at least naturally controlled by the climate and they should not increase under their own steam. This means that there is not currently a requirement to control them in the wild; rather better controls on the sale of these species should ensure that they do not continue to be a problem once the individuals at large have died out naturally. That said, increased temperatures as a result of climate change could see this whole situation change! A juvenile was spotted Regent’s Canal in London last year and this caused concern that they might have found conditions warm enough to breed in our unusually hot summer.
The individual spotted in Grantham canal may even be the only one present – if no others were released alongside it. There is a record of an European Pond Turtle in the canal from 2006 which may be a misidentification of the same individual I saw, or it could be that this non-native species is also present along the waterway.
Next time you are walking along the canal, keep an eye and you might just spot something unexpected!
One of the main aspects of my job as an ecologist is conducting reptile surveys – sadly I’ve never conducted one in or around Grantham but I would love to know what can be found in the local area. If you have seen any reptiles, I would love to know – as would ARG UK who have the Record Pool where you can record your sighting.
The standard way to survey for reptiles is to lay down sheets of refugia – often metal tins, carpet tiles or pieces of roofing felt are used – in suitable reptile habitat, then come back and check to see any reptiles which are either sheltering underneath them or using them to warm up as the sun heats the refugia. This works very well with some species but is less successful at detecting others, such as adders. An alternative way is to approach suitable basking spots, such as log piles, stones or nice south-facing ground early in the day (before it gets too warm and the reptiles move off to forage) and see if you can spot one before it spots you!
The one species I have encountered around Grantham is the grass snake, this is a non-venomous species which is often found associated with water where it hunts amphibians and small fish. One individual I have seen in the Grantham area was along Grantham Canal on the approach to Denton Reservoir and most recently another along a footpath which passes through Croxton Park but I would not be surprised if it were also present within the town of Grantham itself. It is quite an adaptable species and can often be found in gardens, especially if you have a pond. If you do see one, you have no reason to fear it although its main defence mechanism is to secrete an awful smelling substance which you will be able to smell on your hands for a good while after so please don’t touch! They also do a rather disturbing (and in my opinion overacted) job of playing dead, only uncoiling and moving away when they are sure the danger has passed.
The most characteristic feature of a grass snake is the yellow patches on its neck. It could be confused with the adder, but lacks the zig-zag pattern on the back as well as the red eyes. The only other species you may encounter which looks similar is the slow worm but this is a smaller creature (actually a legless lizard rather than a snake) which is a brown/gold colour. This page has some great pointers to help you identify a grass snake.
The common lizard is another species which may occur in the Grantham area although I do not know of any confirmed sightings since 1979. This is the only lizard you are likely to encounter in this part of the country and is therefore difficult to mistake for anything else! They are small and often shy creatures whose presence is most often only registered as a rustle in the undergrowth as they scurry out of sight. They are quite a common species in some parts of the country and can certainly be found in north Nottinghamshire around the Sherwood Forest area.
The slow worms is actually a legless lizard – this website on Rushcliffe Wildlife suggests they are present in small colonies only a few miles to the north of Grantham. In some parts of the country they are very common with strongholds in the west country where they are regularly encountered in gardens, most often when sheltering under rocks or logs, and are a welcome addition to the pest-control brigade, feeding on small invertebrate prey including small slugs.
The final species which could possibly be encountered in the vicinity of Grantham is the adder – our only poisonous snake. These have been recorded historically but not for almost 40 years now – the last record relates to Salter’s Ford Valley from 1979 according to the data search in this document which I turned up through a quick google search. The habitat typical of adders includes open heathland and moorland as well as rough countryside associated with forest edges. Due to the intensity of agriculture around Grantham, these populations are likely to be isolated and decreases in the availability of habitat in the last 40 years may well have resulted in the population dying out. There is a possibility that they may persist in some of the more isolated locations out to the south of the town towards Stamford.
They will bite if harassed (or trodden on) so do take care if you see anything which you suspect may be an adder. However they will only do so under provocation and in self defense – they will not attack people without good reason! Reports of adders along canals and waterways such as Grantham Canal are almost always a mid-identification of a harmless grass snake which has a great affinity for water where it will swim to hunt. More details on identification can be found here.
The other native species – smooth snake and sand lizard – are very specific in their habitat requirements and would not be found in or around Grantham.
I hope this quick guide is useful and don’t forget to record any sightings of reptiles or amphibians in the Grantham area on the Record Pool.
If you’re looking for reptile surveys in and around Grantham and the Midlands in general, check out Landscape Science Consultancy’s website here!