20th August 2007
Nearly 300 slow-worms and grass snakes have been found new homes as the Cotswold Canals’ Partnership gears up to start restoration work at Oil Mills, Ebley.
Safety of the reptiles is paramount and work will not start until the site is clear. To catch the animals, special black mats (roofing felt) have been put out under which the reptiles go to warm up. Trained volunteers, contractors and staff then collect them and move them to a nearby site. In order to prevent more entering the area from adjacent land, special fencing has been put up around the canal at Oil Mills.
Pete Lawrence, one of the trained volunteers says, “I got involved with the relocation of reptiles as it was a way of moving the canal restoration project along. I have learned a lot about snakes and their habits and met some enthusiastic reptile experts.”
Reptiles are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) against killing or injury. In any case, the Cotswold Canals project is conservation led, so wildlife habitat is the top of the agenda regardless of legal protection. “The law requires us to protect habitat,” says James Blockley, the Partnership’s spokesman. “But wherever possible, we aim to improve it. The new Oil Mills Bridge will, for example, contain special bat-bricks within its structure. These hollowed out bricks make ideal bat roosts.”
Reptile collecting at Ebley will continue until five consecutive days of not finding any reptiles within the fenced area have passed. It is hoped that this will be achieved by late August when the restoration works can then commence on Oil Mills Bridge and digging out the infilled section.
Wildlife and habitat work has also been progressing along the rest of the waterway. While water vole and otter surveys have shown that otters are using the canal in association with the River Frome, there are no signs of water voles using the canal at the present time. Many surveys have also taken place at other locations including breeding birds, the bat-roost potential of trees, river habitat/ plant surveys and terrestrial plant surveys.