Dog owners are warned to be careful in the next few weeks as they walk their pets on Cannock Chase.
Recent warm weather has brought snakes, including adders, out of their winter hibernation, but then cold spells leave them lethargic and more liable to be cornered by exploring dogs.
Gill Heath, Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet member for Communities, said:
Cold snaps after they’re just emerged from hibernation can lead to conflicts between snakes and dogs, because the snakes are sluggish and less adept at evading attention.
If cornered the adder may bite in self-defence and it is venomous. We would urge dog owners to keep their pets on a lead or under very close control and avoid walking into tall heather, wet pools and marshy areas where adders can be sheltering or hunting.
Adders will also bask on warm surfaces, such as a sunny path, so do look ahead while walking.
If a dog is bitten, our advice is take it to a vet immediately.”
The adder is a nationally protected species and was once common on heaths, wetlands and grassy areas, but improved drainage, more farming and afforestation has affected its numbers and Cannock Chase is now one of the few areas where it still prospers.
Gill Heath said:
The adder is part of the rich diversity that makes the Chase so attractive and special for all and it would be great if dog owners could take extra care at this time of year.”
Adders can be distinguished from other reptiles by dark zig-zag markings on their backs, though some can be all-black.
Cannock Chase is one of the few places in Staffordshire where adders can still be seen, along with other reptiles such as common lizards, grass snakes and slow worms. Their main prey are small mammals, amphibians and insects.
Adders are listed in the citation for Cannock Chase Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) as a key wildlife species for safeguard through positive habitat management. They are also listed as a species of principle importance under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act, 2006.