Nature photography: a close up on adders

Rob Coleman, Learning and engagement officer Rob Coleman Learning and engagement officer
The head of a male adder (Vipera berus)

Our staff use Lumix cameras, provided by the National Trust's official photography partner, Panasonic, to monitor vulnerable animals, including adders. Rob Coleman, learning and engagement officer at Sheringham Park in Norfolk, explains how photographing these shy reptiles is a vital first step in protecting them.

The adder population at Sheringham Park is booming. Photographing these shy reptiles sheds light on how many live in the quiet patches of woodland and scrubland we take care of. If we know where they live, we can help keep them safe.

Sadly it's a different story in many other parts of the UK, where adder populations are shrinking. Heavy rainfall and flooding, destruction of the woods and scrubland they live in and low birth rates are just some of the challenges facing adders today. 

'It's difficult to get close to adders' 

It's difficult to get close to an adder without scaring it away. The telephoto lens on the Lumix allows me to take high quality close up photographs from a reasonable distance. This means I don't run the risk of disturbing basking snakes, who waste precious energy reserves when they flee a disturbance.

Lumix cameras are small and light. With its 300mm lens, the G9 is easy to carry and shoot without using a tripod. Although small, these cameras create high quality images that match the standard of those produced on a larger model. 

'Each adder is unique'

Each adder is unique and the patterns on their heads are as individual as a human fingerprint. These markings help us identify individual adders in photographs and track how big the population is at Sheringham Park. 

Keeping tabs on the number of adders not only highlights the need for further conservation, it also shows us how successful previous measures have been. 

Adders have lots of places to hide at Sheringham Park

'Adders need places to hide'

We clear patches in the undergrowth, so the adders have enough space to bask, and protect areas of scrub and gorse for them to hide in. Monitoring adders also tells us where they like to hibernate, which means we can avoid any forestry work that might disturb them during the winter. Adders, like many reptiles, hibernate together in large groups. This means any disturbance or destruction of their sleeping spots can have a devastating impact on the population as a whole.  

Recording and monitoring individual snakes also reveals how they go about their lives in the gorse, scrub and woodlands we look after at Sheringham Park. We have discovered that adders live in different places throughout the year with males and females choosing separate patches. 

'Sharing our love of nature'

An important part of my job is to help connect people with the amazing nature and wildlife we have here at Sheringham Park. More than 5,000 children visit us every year to do pond dipping, bug hunting and explore the wildlife-rich coastline. The photographs of the adders, which are shared online, are a great educational resource for teachers. 

Photography is also used to document finds and identify animals for the natural history workshops and study days we run. Photographic documentation not only helps us with our own conservation work it also inspires visitors to look for nature closer to home.  

With many plants and animals in decline, wildlife isn't as easy to experience as it once was. There is simply less of it around to see. We hope to change this by sharing the work we do to look after amazing creatures such as adders. If you experience nature first hand you're more likely to fall in love with it and want to protect it. 

Adders are common on the Lizard in Cornwall

Adder facts

Adders can live up to 15 years

A female adder gives birth to live young every two or three years

Adders are Britain's only venomous snake, but they rarely bite people

Adders hibernate from October to March

Adders are small snakes, rarely more than 40cm in length

There is only one species of adder (Vipera berus) but it can be found all over the world and lives as far north as the Arctic Circle

Two male adders going after the same female may perform what looks like a territorial dance