I’ve been a little concerned about the lack of grass snake hatchlings emerging from the compost heap this autumn. By now I would have expected to have seen several, and although the weather has been unsettled, that does not seem to have impacted upon them in previous years.
Of course, I may have simply missed them. They could have slipped away before I spied them, or found a different spot to curl up and get a feel for things.
The eggs might have become buried, or squashed. Were infertile, or not even laid.
A couple of strappy little male grassies have been hanging around the heap all summer – perhaps they feel as though they have unfinished business, and are still waiting for a female to coil up with.
The other likelihood is predation, and to that end I have today found a probable culprit.
A couple of young snakes – 2 or 3 calendar years judging by their size – have been holed up in the same spot for a couple of months where a pile of sand is covered with a bit of tarp. I check on them most days, mainly to see if they have been joined by any smaller cousins, and also to see how the baby slow worms are getting on.
Today, I was rather unpleasantly surprised.
Both snakes were freshly dead, and one was being gnawed by a rather large rat.
The rat froze, mid-munch, for some seconds before scarpering, and I was left with some moments of my own to consider how I felt.
I was, and remain, upset, although I am not at all angry. The brown rat may not be a native to our shores but they are certainly naturalised and this was a ‘natural’ predation. Also, with at least four big female grass snakes (in excess of 3 feet in length) in this colony, it is likely that the predation is not one way. There are plenty of frogs and toads to eat, but if a grassie found a nest of rats it is unlikely to turn its tongue away.
I do feel slightly concerned that if the rat/s have chomped their way through several year classes of snake, that the future of the colony might be in jeopardy. Yet, the population seemed pretty healthy, and the habitat remains sound, so a blip should not be terminal, even if it lasts several years.
The biggest lesson is the reminder of how personal emotion can affect my view of the natural world. I quite like rats, but not as much as grass snakes. Were it a buzzard or tawny owl snacking on snake then would I have felt less upset?
After all, that rat might end up as dinner itself this very night. Far better those grass snakes join the food chain than be killed for nothing by a dog, cat, car tyre or lawn mower.
So I try and remain philosophical. Not necessarily harden myself, but accept the way that nature works. Far too much emotion is engaged within Man’s views and ‘management’ of the environment, and I can understand why. Sometimes, however, we should remember that it is not our place to judge.