There’s a beastie in the compost heap!

There’s a beastie in the compost heap!

The first signs of spring have finally arrived and stirring grass snakes can be found – amongst other places - in the Idle Valley’s neighbouring wildlife garden of Muddy Fork.

Muddy Fork hosts a growing community of conservationists and gardeners, who come here to access horticultural therapy, and benefit from the unique variety of wildlife around them. The produce it sells is cultivated by its volunteers, whose skills range from gardening and beekeeping to willow craft, and who come together share skills and help preserve this unique landscape.

In Muddy Fork you’ll find a community of fellow wildlife enthusiasts. Having access to such communities is particularly important these days because of the isolation we faced during the pandemic. We continue to see increasing pressure on the NHS and increasing demand for mental wellbeing programmes. Muddy Fork continues to address this need by providing a wild and natural place for people to access. Their volunteer positions are available through self-referral, or green prescribing - and it’s through being a part of this community that I was lucky enough to see baby grass snakes for the first time.

Baby grass snake at Muddy Forks

The wetlands of Idle Valley are thought to be particularly beneficial for mental and physical wellbeing because of the sheer diversity of wildlife here.  Muddy Fork’s volunteers work alongside the local flora and fauna as part of an initiative to find pleasure and meaning in local land. The produce that they grow is part of a shared land, inhabited by local wildlife and maintained by volunteers. This makes Muddy Fork an excellent place for visiting wildlife enthusiasts and is well worth visiting in addition to Idle Valley’s nature reserve.

Viewed this way, local wildlife – and especially hibernating animals – have something in common with us:  We are all keen to venture outside after spending so much time in dormancy, or in lockdown.

At this time of year, just as we are emerging from lockdown, you will see a variety of wildlife emerging from hibernation. With this comes a growing number of opportunities to spot them - moving at a slower pace - as they begin to wake up. Muddy Fork’s resident grass snakes, hedgehogs, and several other hibernators who have made use of compost heaps, tree root systems and abandoned rabbit warrens have started to reappear in response to the warmer weather. This gives visiting wildlife enthusiasts an excellent chance to spot our native species. The notoriously shy adult grass snake, for example, is most likely to be seen in April, basking in the morning sun.

To some people grass snakes are a bit frightening, but this distinctive looking beastie, with a yellow and black collar around its neck, and black markings spanning down its body is a little understood gem. These creatures, shy, retiring, and non-venomous are the UK’s only egg-laying snake and occasionally – if you’re lucky – will lay their eggs in your garden’s compost heap. This is how I was first introduced to these species as very small, wiggly juveniles, nestled in Muddy Fork’s compost heap late last summer. From first sight I was completely taken with these curious little pencil-like creatures. This year I hope to spot an adult grass snake basking in the morning sun – and now is the perfect time for to do that!

In these post-lockdown days, it is invigorating to go out and enjoy being part of a community of fellow wildlife enthusiasts. Perhaps they’ll help you spot something you’ve never seen before? Perhaps they’ll help you spot an elusive grass snake? The benefits of horticultural therapy are varied and fun. Why not consider reaching out to local wildlife charities this month?

For more information please visit the Muddy Fork website, and our Idle Valley page.