Over the past few years RAVON our herpetological colleagues in the Netherlands, have been developing their conservation programme for the native grass snake (Natrix helvetica). This programme has included specific habitat management for grass snakes, to enhance their breeding success and thereby increase the sustainability of populations. One of the most successful interventions has been the creation of egg-laying heaps, which have proven to be a simple, yet effective way of boosting juvenile recruitment. The key to the success of these is the composition and structure of the egg-laying heap, such that it maintains an even temperature, perfect for incubating grass snake eggs, but is not too compact, so that the animals can move around within it.
The Dutch also found that the heaps attract other reptiles and amphibians, as well as small mammals including mice, voles and hedgehogs, so have a more general conservation role. As an added bonus, grass snake egg-laying heap creation is a great volunteer task, and RAVON have had an enthusiastic response and uptake from their volunteers and wildlife groups.
Of course, when we heard about this, we wanted to offer our own UK-based conservation groups the opportunity to try this out for themselves. Many local wildlife groups create heaps of cut grass or brash for reptiles, but we want to see whether using this more structured approach would encourage our UK grass snakes to lay their eggs, and hopefully have similar success.