Laziness & the tale of the Slow Worm

I have been harbouring a couple of untidy piles of old branch trimmings, twigs and bramble cuttings, that were originally meant to be temporary but increased in size over the last three years and, always ‘next weekend’s project, had become a bit of a permanent feature. They were right next to the lawn, and I’d like to make this a  nice place to sit and admire the garden.

But as I had so many butterflies last year, and I believe that these piles were largely responsible, providing shelter for them over winter. I decided I had a really good excuse, beyond laziness, to leave them until summer arrived.

A couple of weekends ago I had that grand tidy-up, combining the piles into a spot at the far end of the garden. It’s behind the ‘wild corner’, which aside from a twice yearly trim, I leave to its own devices. As well as my “leaf mulch” composting spot, this area already has a sort of compost heap, made up of the turf I originally removed to make the vegetable garden, with various garden trimmings on top. This had also grown to an un-managable size.  As the corner is surrounded by brambles, I covered it with some weed suppressing fabric before putting all the other dried branches, twigs and brambles on top. It looks OK for the time being and it’s out of sight.

Despite these unkempt and undisturbed patches, I am a bit disappointed that my garden hasn’t attracted any hedgehogs. Hedgehogs are wonderful to have in a vegetable garden as they eat slugs and snails. These piles would have made excellent hedgehog hotels! I just don’t think there are many around here anymore. We have lots of badgers in these parts, and they are one of the main predators of hedgehogs. I’d also like to have frogs (also snail and slug eaters), and need to do some work on utilising the stream that runs through the garden to create a habitat for them.

Anyway, whilst fiddling around with the leaf mulch I started to peel back some weed suppressant fabric that had been down for several years, when I had an …”OH! What’s that?!” moment.

There was this 5 inch “thing”, wriggling. With what looked like mandibles at one end, my first thought was that it was some sort of giant leech or weird thick worm! I pulled the plastic back some more and … “Crikey! A snake!” Curled up, still as a rock, was what looked like a Slow Worm, not a snake, looking at me… a big Slow Worm. I reckon, allowing for “shock factor” over-exaggeration, that it was about 3 foot long. Not having seen one before, I gently put back the plastic and, thrilled (I know slow worms eat snails and slugs and don’t eat humans), rushed off to get my camera. But, peeling back the fabric, I found the Slow Worm had gone.

The “leech” on the other hand was still there, but had stopped wriggling. Now it looked more like a scaly tail. I must have stood on it whilst its owner was sleeping under the plastic and the Slow Worm had somehow torn itself away? I took some photos then went off to research.

Click here to see what a Slow Worm looks like up close

And that is precisely what happened (if you click on and look at my tail photos you can see traces of blood on the soil). Here’s what I found out.

Slow Worms are not related to snakes or worms, but are in fact lizards. They can grow up to 50cm long as adults, and males may have blue spots down the sides (that sounds like mine). If lucky, they have long lives… up to 30 years! They have protected status in the UK, and it is illegal to kill or harm them intentionally.

And like a lot of lizards they can shed a part of their body when under attack. The detached bit of tail continues to twitch about, getting the attention of the predator, whilst the Slow Worm keeps completely still until the predator has moved off. A tail does eventually grow back on the Slow Worm, but it does make it more vulnerable to predators in the meantime. We have a lot of cats round here (one of the main predators and, if we applied the Protected Species Law to felines, should be arrested!) so I just hope he makes it.

I feel quite terrible for ruining his tail, but at least I am aware that slow worms are now occupying my garden and will take more care in that area. I feel really quite proud and honoured. And they have a new deluxe shelter; to keep warm, breed and to escape from the bloomin’ cats. And heavy-footed humans.

Creating these habitats might not seem worth it for a few years, but they reward us in the long run…

Lazy? moi? Never 🙂



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