Saturday, 15 August 2009

It Doesn't Add Up!

The Swansea Evening Post has carried letters about the University endangering the Gower tourism trade by 'releasing dangerous adders' in that protected area of 'outstanding natural beauty'. This 'story' is based on an occurrence some 30 years ago. Lionel Kelleway was carrying out a PhD on adders (Vipera berus) at Swansea University that involved transferring wild snakes he captured near Reynoldston to a state of the art snake pit (unfortunately long gone) in the Botany Gardens behind the Wallace building. The adder (the UK's only poisonous snake) uses its poison to subdue its prey (rats, mice and frogs etc) and in defense when it feels under attack. The snake is also deaf and has poor vision so it is likely to strike if people or dogs charge through the undergrowth and virtually tread on it. There is no malice in this response and the snake actually wastes the poison that it could use in hunting. The adder actually has the widest geographical range of any reptile. It achieves this by the females becoming mobile incubators and giving birth to live young (rather than laying eggs, like most snakes). All Mr Kelleway did was to take the baby snakes back to the location where their mother would have released them. The snakelets are very vulnerable in early life and are likely to have a high mortality. He was consequently minimising the effects of his activities on the natural populations which are important to the specific ecology of the Gower. One is many times more likely to be killed by lightening than the snakes (their venom is about as toxic as bee sting- there is just more of it) and cars are actually the biggest danger to humans in that locations. The Gower ponies are also much more likely to bite tourists! Lionel was featured in a BBC Wildlife on One film suggesting that we totally misinterpret these animals (http://ftvdb.bfi.org.uk/sift/title/123938). Attempting to eradicate adders would be a very bad move for the Gower's ecology and for tourism.

1 comment:

jeff3 said...

those were the days fishing down pennard you watched were one put your hands climbing back up those paths many a adder seen

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