Case Studies The Wildlife Trust Heart of Durham Adder Project

During 2011-12 The Wildlife Trust Heart of Durham Adder Project worked in partnership with landowners, Durham County Council and funding from the Sir Tom Cowie Charitable Trust to increase awareness of adder ecology and to establish true population levels of adders in County Durham.

All snakes have declined in Great Britain over the past century due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Historically, adders have been common and widespread throughout Europe, but studies over the last 15 years have highlighted declining and increasingly isolated populations.

Aims of the Project

The main aims of the project were:

  • To provide valuable quantitative data and a verifiable baseline of population numbers, so that the effects of any future conservation work can be quantified.
  • To determine the extent of inward and outward migration of adders between sites through “capture, mark and release”.
  • To strengthen the case for better protection, by enhancing key reptile habitat areas.
  • To establish a “Best Practice” methodology for future monitoring through the training of volunteers to carry out surveys and to record findings on regional and national databases.
  • To raise the profile of the adder and increase awareness of adder conservation issues.


In March 2012 a two day training course run by Jon Cranfield, an ecological consultant and vice chairman of the Amphibian and Reptile Group of the UK (ARG) gave nine volunteers a greater understanding of reptile ecology, habitat preference as well as recognising indicators of health and the common abnormalities.


Education has been an important part of the project, increasing awareness and warming the public to reptiles and in particular adders.

Through various talks and events valuable information has been gathered about adder sightings from the general public and there has been the opportunity to impart interesting facts about adder ecology to a wider audience.

As a result of a talk about the adders given at Barnard Castle School, pupils volunteered to help in the construction of a hibernacula, and a trip to Sunderland University was planned for the pupils to see how the sloughed skins are prepared for DNA analysis and then to prepare and extract DNA themselves.

We have also worked with Foundation UK, a charity which supports young offenders and the project regularly have task days with the University conservation groups of Newcastle and Durham. These days have provided opportunities to engage with a wider audience to impart knowledge and dispel myths about the adder.

The DNA analysis of the adder skins at Sunderland University is offering exciting research opportunities for degree and masters students in a variety of disciplines in an area which is fast becoming a nationally important area of study.

Habitat Management

Habitat management for reptiles has been a major part of our volunteer task days. Works to provide south facing basking sites, through clearing scrub and creating sheltered areas, has been carried out on sites that have good potential for adders; many have been on land around Derwent Reservoir and sites owned by private landowners

Several hibernacula have been dug to provide safe winter protection, not only for adders and other reptiles but also for small animals on which they feed.