We are incredibly lucky around here, surrounded as we are by wonderful lowland heath – swathes of heather and gorse.
One fifth of all the lowland heath in Europe is in the UK, and most of that is in the south-east. This unique habitat is home to some of our most fascinating and endangered wildlife, including the beautiful adder.
As our only venomous snake, people are understandably concerned about encountering one when out walking, and we do see one or two cases of dogs bitten each year. Understanding their ecology can help avoid this:
Snakes are rarely out in the open apart from when basking in the sun to warm up. Until they have done so, they are quite sluggish and less able to get away from a foraging dog. So, avoid walking on heathland in the early morning, giving them a chance to 'get up to speed' and disappear into the undergrowth.
Watch out on days with periods of cloud and rain interspersed with sunny intervals, as the adders will come out to bask later in the day during these sunny spells.
Keep to footpaths, as adders will always try to avoid encounters and stay away from high traffic areas. Keep your dog on a lead or under close control so they don't stray into riskier areas. This is also recommended to avoid destroying eggs of ground-nesting birds from March to September.
Alternatively, walk in shaded, wooded areas or open, cultivated farmland where adders are unlikely to be found.
Adders are a bit special in that they give birth to live young rather than laying eggs. In August and September, pregnant females tend to take longer to warm up, so may be out in the open later in the day. Also, being full of baby snakes, they often bask outstretched, looking rather like a stick, instead of being curled up.
If unlucky enough to be bitten, swelling of the area can start rapidly and your dog must be seen by a vet as soon as possible, especially if bitten around the head or neck.
Not every bite injects venom, and not every envenomated bite needs anti-venom, but the sooner treatment starts the better.
Stop walking and arrange to be collected by car at the nearest access point to reduce the circulation of the venom away from the affected area. Carry your dog if possible.
Don't give any medicines as these may interfere with the correct treatment and may even make matters worse.
When treated promptly and appropriately, bites are rarely fatal. In fact, the only fatality in our decades of shared experience was a dog that was not presented for treatment for three days, by which time it was sadly too late.
The owner had taken poor advice from an internet search which said only Piriton was needed.
We are always here for advice, so don't take chances.