I guess if there is one species of British wildlife that will strike fear into people then it has to be the adder (Vipera berus)! Not only is it a snake (and many people love to hate snakes), it is a poisonous snake and uses its venom to kill its prey.
Now I am not going to pretend the adder is a harmless creature and I treat them with respect as anyone should, but I never see reports of people being bitten by them. Here in the Purbeck area of Dorset the adder is probably as 'common' as it is anywhere and if people were suffering serious effects of adder bites we would surely know about it. If anything it is uncontrolled dogs that are most likely to be 'innocent' victims of the adder and I am not even sure that that is at all common either. The reality is that the adder is a very shy creature and can detect approaching people by the vibrations in the ground and so they generally slide away in to nearby cover at the first hint of danger approaching. Only if accidentally trodden on, or foolishly handled, are they likely to bite.
I said above that the adder is as common here in Purbeck as it is anywhere but the truth is that the adder is now far from common even here and it seems to be in serious decline. Research shows that as the adder's natural habitat becomes fragmented by roads and development so populations are forced to interbreed and the gene pool is becoming very weak and the species is dying out. Efforts are under way to try and correct this but it will take time before enough can be captured and relocated in to other colonies before we know if the programme is successful.
Not only can they be found on the Purbeck heaths you may also find them basking on sea cliffs, grass downland, south facing embankments and other 'wild' places.
To many, I guess the news of the decline of the adder will be welcome but it is such a truly beautiful creature with those striking markings down its back and dark V on the back of its head that to me the loss of the adder would be a tragedy. I rarely see them but when I do I never fail to be thrilled buy the sight; they are just special!