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Smooth snakes: Bid to save the UK's rarest reptile with £400k grant

Smooth snake Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Conservationists say 85% of smooth snake habitat has been lost since 1800

Hundreds of volunteers will be trained to help save the UK's rarest reptile - the smooth snake.

The secretive creatures, which live in Dorset, Hampshire and Surrey, are one of only three native snake species and no records exist of their numbers.

More than £400,000 of lottery funding has been awarded to build a record and assess how to safeguard their future.

The project is being led by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC), supported by other wildlife groups.

The snakes were first identified in the UK in 1852 at Parley Common in Dorset.

Habitat under threat

Their main populations are in lowland heaths in Dorset, Hampshire and Surrey, but they have also been found in West Sussex and Devon.

Conservationists say 85% of their habitat has disappeared since 1800 and the rest is under threat from development, encroaching scrub, fire and erosion, putting the creatures at risk.

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Part of the £412,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund will pay for training of volunteers to monitor snakes and conserve habitats.

Mapping tools will also identify habitats that most need conserving and a handbook will help others get involved in conservation efforts.

Other organisations involved in the "Snakes in the Heather" project include the RSPB, National Trust, Wildlife Trust, Plantlife and Forestry Commission.

National Lottery Heritage Fund area director Stuart Hobley said: "This exciting project will have a huge impact not just for the UK's rarest reptile but also for its wider habitats and the other species that call them home."

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