Animals, Conservation, Lotti, Wildlife

Back in 2014, a YouGov survey showed that around 52% of people in the UK said they were scared of snakes to some degree. A fear of snakes, also known as Ophidiophobia, is one of the most common reported phobias and effects nearly a third of adults around the world. In the UK, snakes are more often than not totally harmless and are usually more afraid of humans than we are of them – we’re a lot bigger, after all!

In the UK, we’ve got four kinds of native snakes (and one native lizard who is often mistaken for one!). Across the UK, all of our snakes (and other reptiles) are protected as part of the Wildlife & Countryside Act of 1981, which means that it’s an offence to injure, kill or sell any of our native species. It’s also an offence to keep, handle or trap the smooth snake or the sand lizard as they are particularly rare. This means that if you see a snake in your garden, allotment, or while on a walk that not only is it cruel to injure them it’s also illegal!

While some people love snakes (and even keep them as pets), not everyone would be thrilled to see a scaly serpent slithering across their lawn. We’ve put together a list of British snakes and what to do if you see one in your garden, allotment or when out for a walk.

Adder

Vipera Berus
Vipera Berus by Benny Trapp is licensed under CC BY 3.0

The adder, also called the Viper, is one of the most well-known snakes in the UK. This is probably thanks to the fact that it’s also the UK’s only venomous snake, which gives it a rather fearsome reputation. However, adders rarely attack and tend to only bite in defense. In the past one hundred years, there have only been 14 deaths from adder bites, the most recent being in 1975. Those most at risk from bites are babies and children, the elderly or household pets and unless you have an allergy to adder venom the only symptoms you can expect are dizziness, nausea and swelling. In most cases, an adder bite won’t even require treatment with anti-venom!

Adders have a strong, dark “zig-zag” pattern and a “v” shape on the top of their heads. They tend to eat small rodents as well as frogs and toads.

While adders might not live up to their reputation, it’s important to remember that in the very unlikely chance you are bitten by an adder, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Grass Snake

Natrix Natrix
Natrix Natrix by Marek Szczepanek is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Grass snakes are often mistaken for adders thanks to their dark green markings. Unlike adders, grass snakes are non-venomous and have yellow collars around their necks and lack the tell-tale “zig-zag” markings which are found on adders. Grass snakes are found all over England and Wales but not in Scotland, usually living near ponds or other bodies of water and eat mostly amphibians like frogs or toads as well as some species of small fish.

Like all native snakes, grass snakes tend to avoid people and are more likely to attempt to escape than attack if provoked. Often, grass snakes will “play dead” when startled, flipping onto their backs and lying with their mouths open to appear non-threatening (and less like a tasty snack!). If that doesn’t work, grass snakes can start to give off a disgusting smell to really put off a potential predator. If none of this works, grass snakes will (very rarely) rear up and perform a mock attack.

Last year the barred grass snake was officially classified as a distinct species separate from the common grass snake, becoming the fourth native snake in the UK!

Natrix Helvetica
Natrix Helvetica by Benny Trapp is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Smooth Snake

Coronella Austriaca
Coronella Austriaca 3 by S.A. Antipov is licensed under CC BY 4.0

The smooth snake is the UK’s rarest snake and so is heavily protected by law. They are only found in the heathlands in Dorset, some areas of Hampshire and Surrey. These incredibly shy snakes tend to spend a lot of time hidden underground or beneath logs and rocks and are non-venomous, completely harmless to humans. These small snakes rarely reach more than 70cm long with a slender body and flat, grey or brown scales. Smooth snakes have dark butterfly or heart shaped mark on the top of their heads.

Slow Worm

slow worm

Slow worms are not, in fact, snakes. These legless lizards are very common throughout Britain and prefer moist mossy or grassy areas, so are often found beneath sheds or compost bins. They reach only 40cm long and are a light brown colour with shiny scales.

Slow worms are probably the most commonly spotted reptile in the UK and at first glance are often mistaken for snakes. Unlike snakes, slow worms have openings for their ears and have the ability to blink, which snakes do not.

What to do if you find a snake in your garden

In general, snakes try to keep away from built up areas and places where there are a lot of people, so it’s unlikely that you’ll find one in your garden. You’re more likely to spot a snake while out in the countryside, hiding in tall grass or leaf litter.

A snake in your garden is probably just passing through, so leaving them alone is usually the best option. Keep calm and don’t make a lot of noise or try to startle the snake. Have a good look and attempt to identify the snake, but avoid picking it up or trying to catch it. A snake will eventually leave your garden on its own, so there’s no need to panic.

It’s a good idea to keep children and pets indoors, even if you know the snake is non-venomous, just in case they or the snake is injured. Most snakes will move away if approached and are generally more afraid of you than you are of them. If you see a native British snake in your garden, you don’t need to call the RSPCA or any other animal protection group unless the snake appears to be injured or wounded. If there’s a wounded snake in your garden, you can call the RSPCA on 0870 55 55 999.

You are far more likely to find a snake in the countryside (or in an allotment where there’s more open space). Again, snakes will usually move away in the presence of humans and can detect footsteps through the vibrations in the ground. If you find a snake in the countryside, leave it alone and let it go on its way – it’s probably just looking for food or a place to hide.

If you’re walking in an area known to be home to snakes, keep an eye on the ground and be careful when moving through overgrown areas as snakes are more likely to strike when trodden on.

There are a number of charities currently active in the UK who would really love to hear from you about any snakes you’ve spotted. Report sightings to The Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust, or use Froglife’s Dragon Finder app.

What if I’ve found a snake that doesn’t match the above descriptions?

Around the world, pet snakes are becoming more and more common. If you’ve seen a snake which doesn’t look like one of the ones listed above, it’s probably an escaped pet. Generally, pet snakes are completely harmless, but if you’re not sure then it’s always a good idea to keep children and animals indoors. In the UK, you need a licence to keep venomous snakes, so it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever come across one that has escaped.

Popular pet snakes include corn snakes, ball pythons, hognoses and dwarf pythons. Corn snakes are particularly prolific escapees, and there’s been lots of reports of these snakes turning up in all manner of unexpected places. If you ever find an exotic snake in your garden or see one outside, ring the RSPCA’s 24-hour helpline on 0300 1234 999, so you can try to reunite the snake with its owner.

Jenny at PrimroseLotti works with the Primrose Product Loading team, creating product descriptions and newsletter headers.

When not writing, Lotti enjoys watching (and over-analyzing) indie movies with a pint from the local craft brewery or cosplaying at London Comic Con.

Lotti is learning to roller skate, with limited success.

See all of Lotti’s posts.

Animals, Conservation, How To, Lotti, Wildlife

bug hotel

Whether you love them or hate them, there’s no denying that Britain’s insects are a key part of our ecosystem. From the humble bumblebee who pollinates flowers and crops to the spiders who keep flies at bay (and the flies themselves who keep waste down), insects all play a part in keeping the ecosystem ticking along. In the UK, we’ve got a surprising number of weird and wonderful insects, but sadly a lot of them are under threat of extinction thanks to global warming and increased pesticide use. We’ve put together this handy guide on building your very own bug hotel – perfect for supporting our many-legged friends.

Bug hotels are also a great way to get children interested in the outdoors as it gives them to chance to get to grips with nature. If there’s one thing that gets children excited about going in the garden, it’s the promise of bugs.

Bug hotels have been popping up all over the country. They’re popular in schools and nurseries where they teach children about the importance of biodiversity and looking after the world around them as well as making great projects that children can really get stuck into. Armed with magnifying glasses and plenty of pots and buckets, there’s nothing so fun as spending an afternoon catching bugs. You can now find bug hotels all over the place, if you know where to look – in wildlife centres, the grounds of stately homes or in zoos and parks. There’s even a small bug hotel in the beer garden of my local pub, complete with a welcome sign. We can all do our part to support wildlife and create the opportunity for everyone, not just children, to learn about creepy crawlies.

children with bugs

If you’re short on time or resources, there’s a number of pre-made bug homes and hotels available which can be hung or placed around even the smallest garden. Solitary hives are great for supporting bees, who play an important part in pollinating our plants, and bug barns are great for all sorts of insects.

Remember, it’s not just bugs who’ll appreciate a bug hotel in a garden – they’re also great for hedgehogs, who pop along for a meal and a snooze, or frogs and toads who can hide beneath the old damp wood. A bug hotel which is in an area that gets a lot of sunlight will attract more solitary bumblebees and one near nectar rich flowers will be attractive to butterflies.

Typically, bug hotels follow a general structure which can then be personalised depending on what materials you have to hand. For the “skeleton” of your hotel, you’ll need a few wooden pallets (ideally enough to stack roughly 1m high) and some bricks. Not ordered anything heavy from Primrose lately? Pallets are surprisingly easy to find online through classified websites or freecycling groups, and are usually free as people are keen to get rid of them!

Once you’ve found your pallets, the rest is up to you! To get you started, here’s a basic list of some of the materials you could use for your bug hotel project. Remember: it doesn’t have to be perfect, and virtually any natural materials or garden waste will be well appreciated.

  • Strips of old wood
  • Broken branches, twigs and sticks
  • Moss
  • Dry leaves (or wet leaves!)
  • Woodchips
  • Bamboo sticks
  • Hollow canes or stems
  • Soil
  • Sand
  • Bark
  • Pinecones, acorns etc
  • Straw, hay or dry grass
  • Drilled logs
  • Old flower pots – plastic or terracotta
  • Thick cardboard (corrugated is especially popular with bugs!)
insect hotel
Insect Hotel 2 by Zakhx150 is licensed under CC BY 3.0

1 – Pick a Spot

Firstly, you need to decide the best place for your bug hotel to go. A bug hotel which gets a lot of light will be more attractive to bees while one near flowerbeds is more likely to encourage butterflies. If you put your hotel near a pond, you might find some amphibian guests hiding in the dark, damp spaces. Typically, bugs tend to be attracted to places that are cool and dark, so make sure your hotel gets some shade.

It’s important to make sure that you use flat ground to make your bug hotel as stable as possible. If you’ve got vegetables growing in your garden, it’s best to build your hotel away from them (unless you want them to get nibbled).

2 – The Base

Once you’ve decided where you’re going to build, it’s time to lay the base of your bug hotel. You can start with laying bricks to elevate the first pallet, but if you can’t find any bricks you can build without them. Stack a few pallets on top of each other until the hotel is as tall as you want. Remember, the higher the hotel, the more bugs – but don’t make it too tall or it might collapse!

When a bug hotel is full, it can be quite heavy, so make sure you put the sturdiest pallets at the bottom.

pallets

3 – Fill it Up

This is the fun part! Bugs love nothing more than lots of dark, small spaces that they can hide in – so you’ve got to make lots of tiny spaces (rooms, if you will) where they can go. Essentially, you need to fill all the gaps. This can seem daunting at first, so here’s a few ways you can turn your pallets into a five star hotel.

Bamboo & Canes – bamboo and other hollow canes are great for bugs as they provide a small space for resting and laying eggs. Bamboo is particularly popular with solitary bees. You can either thread bamboo into the hotel loosely (which has the added bonus of providing supporting structures for spiders and other insects) or you can insert several sawn-off pieces into a flower pot to keep them rigid. You can then place the flowerpot facing outwards to provide access to bees. If you don’t have a flowerpot, simply tie several canes together using string.

bamboo canes

Rolled up cardboard – Loosely roll up some cardboard (corrugated card works best) and insert it into the gaps in the structure. This makes a great home for all sorts of bugs.

Wood chips, bark and old sticks – A thorough layer of old wood, chips and bark at the bottom of your bug hotel is a great way to encourage borrowing bugs. These environments are perfect for stag beetles, which lay their eggs in rotting wood and are nationally scarce. Remember – if you see a stag beetle in your garden, let the People’s Trust for Endangered Species know!

Straw, hay and dead grass – From bundles of hay and straw to lawn trimmings, you can fill a lot of space with these materials. This is attractive to ladybirds, who are great for the garden as they eat the aphids which can damage plants and vegetables.

Dry sticks and leaves – mimic the forest floor with a layer of dry leaves and smaller sticks.

Drill holes in logs – Again, this is great for solitary bees because it mimics their natural nests. Using a variety of different sized drill heads, make a number of small holes into the flat side of the log and place it pointing outwards from the bug hotel.

drilled logs

Stones, terracotta pots and roofing tiles – Including these in your bug hotel, especially near the bottom, creates a cool and damp place where amphibians love to hide.

Pine cones – pine cones, either loose or bundled into a flower pot, make great hiding places for all sorts of bugs.

Remember, the key to a bug hotel is that there’s lots of different kinds of places for bugs to hide. Try to fill as many of the gaps as possible with a variety of different natural materials to encourage a wider number of species.

4 – Finishing Touches

When you’ve filled your bug hotel, it’s time to add a roof. Slate shingles, tiles or even a sheet of roofing felt is a great way to keep your bug hotel (relatively) dry. For the really daring, you can even make a green roof by covering the top in soil and topping it with a scattering of wildflower seeds.

And that’s it – apart from one final thing that every five-star hotel needs: A sign! You can easily make a garden sign using paint and an old strip of wood or slate. You can even use a garden chalk-board with a waterproof chalk pen so all the bugs in your garden know the best place to spend the night.

Hotel Primrose

Jenny at PrimroseLotti works with the Primrose Product Loading team, creating product descriptions and newsletter headers.

When not writing, Lotti enjoys watching (and over-analyzing) indie movies with a pint from the local craft brewery or cosplaying at London Comic Con.

Lotti is learning to roller skate, with limited success.

See all of Lotti’s posts.

Animals, Conservation, Megan, Wildlife

How to Create a Butterfly Garden - Butterfly on Stem of Plant

Butterflies are beautiful insects and fascinating to watch. The purpose of butterfly gardening is to produce an outdoor space that attracts butterflies. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing fluttering about in their garden? Butterflies feed on nectar and there are many nectar-producing plants that will help attract butterflies. You can also provide a place for butterflies to rest and create an area for puddling. This is a interesting behaviour that occurs in other insects as well as butterflies. In involves insects sucking up fluid from rotting plant matter, ensuring they get the minerals they need. Read on to find out more about creating a butterfly garden that will be sure to thrive!

Importance of Butterfly Conservation

Putting time into creating a butterfly garden can in turn contribute to increasing the butterfly population, which has been on the decline in the UK since 1976. A lot of this is down to destruction of natural habitats due to urbanisation. Butterfly species have also struggled to cope with changing climates.

Butterflies are widely considered an indicator of environmental health; their decline is of great concern to charities like Butterfly Conservation. Taking small steps such as starting a butterfly garden helps increase the chance of native species surviving these severe changes in environment. You never know – your butterfly garden might contribute to stopping the extinction of a certain endangered species!

Going Organic

Butterflies are insects and therefore, as you may have guessed, are not fans of insecticides and pesticides. As creating a butterfly garden is a contribution to the conservation of their species in itself, it is best paired with going organic. Chemicals like pesticides are toxic to butterflies. Additionally laying off from using them will mean the population of beneficial insects in your garden will grow.

There are plenty of ways to rid of pests using biological methods that will not harm butterflies and any other beneficial insects. You can find out more about going organic in your garden in our blog post here.

Butterfly Species Native to the UK

Knowing which butterflies are native to your area is essential when creating a butterfly garden. It will help you know what species of plants you should plant, as well as aid you in the identification of the butterflies that visit your garden. Common butterflies you might see in the UK include

  • Holly blue
  • Comma
  • Speckled Wood
  • Red Admiral
  • Orange Tip

What to Plant in a Butterfly Garden

How to Create a Butterfly Garden - Lavender Plant

The plants that are most likely to attract butterflies are ones whose flowers produce nectar and pollen in abundance. Choosing a variety of different plants like this will allow different species of butterfly to pick and choose their preferred nectar. Plants that attract butterflies include lavender, butterfly bush, daylily and vervain. Other wildflowers and old-fashioned flowers will also attract butterflies. Plant a diverse range of plants that bloom throughout each season. This allows butterflies access to pollen and nectar all year round.

It is also important to plant host plants for butterflies to home their caterpillars. Vegetable plants and herbs work best for this.  These will also provide a food source for caterpillars when they hatch. Suitable plants include fennel, nettle, milkweed and thistle.

Food & Water for Butterflies

How to Create a Butterfly Garden - Two Butterflies on Plate Eating Fruit

As with any creature, butterflies require food and water to survive. You can provide them with a water source by installing a bird bath. This in turn helps other wildlife such as birds. You could even plan out a water garden, which is a pond built for the purpose of housing aquatic plants. A more straightforward way to provide a water source is to dig a shallow hole, ensure it is damp and cover it with sand. This method also provides provide butterflies an area to puddle.

Butterflies’ main food source is nectar so planting nectar-producing plants will in turn provide them with food. In addition, butterflies enjoy the sugar from ripe fruit such as bananas or oranges. Place any fruit scraps on a shallow plate in the garden and cover with fruit juice to prevent it drying up. If you have any fruit trees outside, resist picking up and composting the rotting fruit. Leave it out for butterflies to feast on.

Butterfly Watching

How to Create a Butterfly Garden - Table and Chairs in Garden

Butterfly watching is a fascinating and enjoyable pastime which can also be a very mindful experience. Watch out your window, or take a seat outside, whatever you prefer. Quietly watch whilst butterflies fly from flower to flower and feed on nectar. Admire their beautiful wings whilst observing them resting as they recharge after expending energy flying. Butterfly watching is one of the joys that comes with creating a butterfly garden right on your doorstep.

Overall, creating a butterfly garden is a truly rewarding experience. You are sure to enjoy admiring the diverse range of species that it will bring to your garden. Furthermore you will be contributing to the conservation of UK butterflies and helping the environment, which is definitely as plus!

Megan at PrimroseMegan works in the Primrose marketing team. When she is not at her desk you will find her half way up a hill in the Chilterns
or enjoying the latest thriller series on Netflix. Megan also enjoys cooking vegetarian feasts with veggies from her auntie’s vegetable garden.

See all of Megan’s posts.