Care for your compost

It may sound strange, but one of the most important things you can do to help grass snakes is in your own back garden (or field, livery, nature reserve, you get the idea!). Compost and manure heaps can play a key role in the life cycle of the grass snake from June through until September. Grass snakes lay eggs, and like humid warm places to do so. In today's human-occupied environment, natural egg-laying sites may be few and far between, and so many grass snakes now rely on compost and manure heaps to lay between 10 and 40 eggs each, where they will incubate.

A handful of hatched grass snake eggs. Photo courtesy of Chris Gleed-Owen/ARC

Eggs are normally laid around June and July, and won't hatch until the end of August through to the beginning of October. During this period, you can really help the species by not turning or moving your compost or manure heap. If you don't have a compost heap, why not make one?! It's easy, and can be done at very low cost (or even for free). One way of constructing a simple compost heap is by creating a base of branches or small logs which will allow air flow below the heap, and then adding vegetation such as grass cuttings on top. As these begin to break down, it is important to top up the pile. Click here to see a guide on how to make one and their benefits. Don't be surprised if other wildlife, including a few slow-worms turn up to live in it too!

At the start of October, we will be checking compost heaps to see if we can find some grass snake egg shells to help identify important breeding areas for the species. Keep an eye out for hatchling grass snakes around 15-20cm long and pencil thin turning up from now until October, and also for egg shells if you turn your compost heap later in the year. If you see or find anything, please let us know.

Domestic compost heap consisting of garden waste and grass cuttings.

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