02 June 2012


One spring morning the girls, who had been playing outside, rushed into the house in some agitation to announce the presence of an unusual visitor on our drive: a snake. I went to check their claim, and found it to be true. 

The creature had a v-shaped marking on its head and an elegant diamond pattern down its back. It lay so still you might think it was dead, but the occasional slow stir indicated otherwise. 

Back in Bolivia, that kind of patterning and colour would indicate that the snake was venomous. I did not think such a thing was possible in Britain, but K confirmed that it was, and that it was called an adder. I knew, in theory, what an adder was, but had not expected to meet one at close range, let alone right outside my house.
As no doubt every reader of this blog knows - even though I didn’t - adders are common on this island. They come out of hibernation in early spring, which is when most sightings are reported. Our adder visited on 19 April, which counts as early spring if one remembers that the previous winter had been one of the harshest in memory.  The Forestry Commission tells us that adders are common in “rough, open countryside” and are to be found in “woodland edge habitats”, which is, I suppose, a valid description of where I live. 

If there is a snake you are reliably informed is poisonous in the vicinity of where your children are playing, what would you do? Had I been better informed, I may meekly have brought the girls indoors, hoping that this meeting was a one-off. But I was not better informed, and it was a glorious spring morning, and the girls had been having a good time outside until the adder arrived. I had not read the Forestry Commission’s clear description of adders, which mentions in passing that they are a protected species. I did what I thought I had to do. I did it with regret, and have since had much occasion to feel guilty about it.