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University Students Introduced to Adders on the Malvern Hills

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A group of students from the University of Worcester visited the Malvern Hills to see how adders are being managed as part of a conservation project.

Throughout Europe the adder (Vipera berus) is the most widespread snake species, but due to declining populations in the UK, it has been designated a priority species for conservation and is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981. 

The Malvern Hills are one of the strongholds for adders in Worcestershire, but populations have become increasingly threatened through development and road building, leading to a loss of habitat. The isolation of adder populations within Worcestershire and across the UK is resulting in genetically distinct communities, which in turn increases their vulnerability to environmental change.

To address these issues, the Malvern Hills Conservators are taking advice from Nigel Hand, an ecological consultant from Central Ecology, and are targeting key areas on the Malvern Hills with management practices aimed at saving this important reptile species.

Students at the University of Worcester studying BSc Ecology had the opportunity to visit the Malvern Hills to explore the range of reptiles present, with the specific aim of finding adders. 

Dr Duncan Westbury, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Worcester, said: “Whilst it is important that students understand the theories behind species declines, it is equally important that they experience and evaluate how such issues are being addressed. The Malvern Hills provide an excellent classroom for discussion and debate.”

He added: “Adders are the only naturally occurring venomous snake species to be found in Britain and have suffered a long history of persecution. We need to raise awareness of the importance of this vulnerable species and change negative public perception.”

Nigel Hand, of Central Ecology, said: “The adder has recently been declared as the UK reptile species under the most dramatic decline and that is certainly evident within Worcestershire and the West Midlands.  I have seen adder populations disappear from areas within my lifetime.  It would be a tragedy to lose such a beautiful and enigmatic species from our countryside.”