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Photo © Jon Cranfield

We are busy working on our resource pack - which will be available soon!!


Background to the project

Arguably, the most striking, but also the most feared, of our three native snakes, the European adder (Vipera berus), appears to be declining rapidly across many parts of the UK. Evidence from the ‘Make the Adder Count’ long term monitoring scheme (Gardner et al., 2019), also revealed that alongside habitat loss and fragmentation, persecution is believed to be an important reason for these declines. As the UK’s only venomous snake, adders have long suffered a negative public image, and many communities still believe that “the only good snake is a dead snake”. Naturally secretive, it is easy to misunderstand these vulnerable creatures, and underestimate their role as an indicator of a healthy environment.

The ‘Adders are Amazing!’ (AAA!) project was developed by Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK (ARG UK) in 2018.  The project aimed to develop a better understanding of what drives the hatred and fear we often see directed towards this timid and sensitive species, and address the persecution which may still be a major barrier to adder conservation. The project focused on the communities of the St David’s Peninsula in Pembrokeshire, South West Wales, because this is still one of the most important adder strongholds in the UK, and the community living there come into regular contact with them. By increasing their understanding and awareness, we hoped that local people, would feel pride in ‘their’ adders, and would want to champion and protect them. The second part of the project aimed to develop novel methods for community engagement, which could then be shared with other conservation groups across the UK, including the network of volunteer Amphibian and Reptile Groups (ARGs).

Whilst habitat protection, enhancement and improving connectivity are undoubtedly key to adder conservation, without effective engagement and support from the wider public there is a much lower chance of success in saving this iconic species. The public need to know why adders are special and important, and learn how to live harmoniously alongside them without conflict. Crucially, people also need to understand that persecution can have devastating effects and could drive the adder to extinction. To achieve this change in public perception, there has to be increased understanding and empathy for the adder.

To deliver an effective programme of community attitude change the Adders are Amazing! project explored the potential for combining science with the creative arts. Logical, scientific arguments can be persuasive, but the creative arts can move people in more subtle ways. People can sometimes feel disconnected from ‘experts’, whereas artistic and creative messages may be more welcoming, especially to some of the harder to reach parts of the community. For those who are fearful or even phobic of snakes, the use of art softens the message, making it more palatable. For example, during the schools’ outreach days, children who were worried by pictures of adders, became engaged and relaxed when provided with clay or paints to create a model, or picture.

This resource pack brings together some of the most effective artistic and scientific engagement tools developed during the project. Not all are novel, and many can be further adapted and improved, perhaps to be used for a much wider range of species. We have also included options for low cost or free (at point of use) workshops, to enable a much wider range of community groups to engage.

We have also colour coded activities to appeal to different age ranges, though of course there are no hard and fast rules. For young people there is a focus on more ‘hands on’ visual activities: red sheets are aimed for pre-school and younger primary (KS1) activity sheets; and green sheets at older primary/secondary ages (KS2+). For more mature or adult groups e.g. U3A, Women’s Institute and community councils, we have developed the blue sheets. These outline a presentation or focus group to discuss concerns about adders and ways to help the community. Equally more mature groups may involve something more practical and creative. We are committed to being inclusive, and believe that working with all members of the community, regardless of age, gender, financial circumstances, mobility, ethnicity or any other difference, is essential. What we offer here then, are activities that can be developed for working with all groups.

It is our hope that the pack will fire up the imagination and provide you with ideas for projects in your area, to help raise awareness of adders and change the public perception of these amazing animals, before we lose them forever. Please do print out the resources, photocopy them and distribute them freely. Use them for public events, talks or school engagement work. We hope you find them beneficial and would value your feedback!

Sam Langdon (Adders are Amazing! project officer, ARG UK)

Angela Julian (National Coordinator, ARG UK)

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