Wiltshire

Kennet and Avon grass snakes take to the canal to cool down

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Media captionLock keeper at Caen Hill in Devizes says he has never seen so may grass snakes swimming in the canal.

A lock keeper at a canal in Wiltshire has said he has never seen so many grass snakes swimming in the water during the recent hot weather.

Alan Giddings has worked at Caen Hill on Kennet and Avon canal for almost 36 years and said it was "truly amazing".

He said: "I've never seen them just come across the towpath and plop into the lock."

Oda Dijksterhuis, of the Canal & River Trust, said warm weather had made them "take to the water more than usual".

'Out of undergrowth'

Mr Giddings said it happened over two days during the hot spell at the end of July.

He said: "Normally you don't see them or maybe you'll get a glimpse. But during those two hottest days, they came straight out of the undergrowth.

"I saw five separate snakes - and the size of them. I then filled up the lock with water and opened the lock otherwise it would have been difficult for them to get out."

Ms Dijksterhuis said: "Grass snakes are one of a number of reptiles we see on the Kennet and Avon canal, along with the likes of slow worms and the common lizard.

"They're fairly numerous along our canal but it's pretty rare to spot them, so it's amazing that Alan was able to get such close-up video footage."

She said the creatures were normally found in the long grass and among the reed fringes along the waterside.

"Mature grass snakes can grow up to two metres long. They are beautiful, elegant creatures and no danger to humans."

'Glut of toads'

Naturalist and BBC Natural History presenter Brett Westwood said: "Because snakes and other reptiles regulate their body temperatures by basking in sunshine or moving into shade to cool down, it's likely that these snakes are cooling off by swimming.

"Another possible explanation is that they are cashing in on a glut of young frogs or toads which can be very common near the water's edge in early to mid-summer as they begin to emerge on to land.

"It's a very encouraging sighting as grass snakes suffer from having their habitat disrupted by roads, and development, so much so that they can be quite rare now in some areas."

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