St David's, Little Dewchurch, Herefordshire

sliceGrass snake Photo by Robin WardsliceSlow-worm sliceSlow-worm head

Slow-worms and Grass snakes in the churchyard

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As the countryside gets tidier churchyards have become an important haven for slow-worms. They hide under stones or in long grass, and search for their food such as insects, slugs, woodlice, in nooks and crannies in the wall and graves. 

Slow-worms are not worms at all, and although they may look like snakes they are actually lizards without legs.  They are completely harmless, and their diet of slugs makes them a great friend of gardeners.

St David's churchyard has a very good breeding population of slow-worms. The most we have counted at one time is 28, plus some young ones. The compost heaps provide good warm basking places for them.

Sometimes grass snakes are found in the churchyard. These are completely harmless, and are no threat to people. When they are disturbed they may thrash around, and also may produce a horrible smelling liquid. 

We don't think they breed in the churchyard, but like the slow-worms they find safe places to hide. They prefer damp places where they can find their food, which consists mostly of frogs, toads, newts, small fish and small rodents.

The grass snake is the only snake in the churchyard. Adders are not found in this area: they live mainly on scrub-covered hillsides, heathlands and commons. 

Amphibians are occasionally found: toads and newts shelter under stones, and frogs search for food in long grass. 

To find out more about slow-worms, grass snakes and amphibians visit the website of Herefordshire Amphibian and Reptile Team at www.herefordhart.org

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Young grass snake

This is a young grass snake. You can clearly see the pale yellowish band behind the head. 

Grass snake and Slow-worm

Here a grass snake and slow-worm are coiled up together under a piece of carpet on a compost heap.

Drawing by Nigel Hand

A grass snake's head pattern (left) is very different from the adder's (right), so they are easy to tell apart.