This is a very attractive and interesting book about a species which, these days, I hardly ever see. When did you last see an Adder? I haven’t seen one for years and yet in my youth they were noticeably commoner. As were signs saying ‘Danger Adders’ which I always thought were put in places (eg where I used to go scrumping apples) simply to dissuade entry rather than because of any real danger, or even any real Adders.
This is a fascinating book about a species to which we have deliberately given a hard time over the centuries through persecuting it because of its venomous nature. We’ve acted as though we were very scared of this species and yet we are not far from the 50-year anniversary of the last person to die in the UK from an Adder bite (1975) and there have, it seems, been 14 deaths since 1876. Adder bites are serious though and no laughing matter although the vast majority happen to people who pick up or otherwise touch this venomous creature.
However, rather than linger on the harm that an Adder could do to us we should be thinking much more about the good we could to them. The decline in Adder numbers is not mostly due to deliberate persecution, the days of there being a snake catcher, one Harry Mills, making a living in the New Forest from catching or killing Adders are long gone. No, the threats to this wonderful creature are many and various including disturbance by photographers and dog walkers, climate change, habitat loss and degradation, although the hysterical manner in which Adders are covered in the British media, particularly local press, can’t win this declining species many friends.
The author highlights the belief, which is widespread amongst reptile experts, that non-native gamebirds, particularly Pheasants are a threat to Adders, and that their massive increase in numbers over the last 50 years has been a contributing cause of the Adder’s decline. There are graphic descriptions of how Pheasants attack Adders and the impacts of those attacks.
This leads, in the last chapter, to increased regulation of gamebird releases being one of the 10 suggestions for Adder recovery – the proposal is that there should be no gamebird releases within a mile of known Adder sites. Alongside this proposal are nine other interesting suggestions which include reporting inaccurate and sensational media coverage to regulators, reintroductions and better protection for known Adder hotspots.
There are over 100 colour images in the book, most of them of Adders, and the book does have a sumptuous feel to it – it’s an attractive thing to hold in your hands and an interesting one to read.
The cover is gorgeous – I’d give it 9/10 even though the back cover is a bit gruesome.
The Secret life of the Adder: the vanishing Viper by Nicholas Milton is published by Pen and Sword[registration_form]