The Slow Worm

We don’t have many dangerous animals in the UK. Because we killed all the dangerous ones. Most of them centuries ago. Many of them millenia ago. The antelope, woolly rhino, mammoth, elk, wolverine and walrus are amongst those number. More recent members of the not-so-exclusive UK extinction club include the bear, lynx and the wolf. Humans, you’ll not be surprised to hear, were wholly responsible for these recent extinctions. But us humans aren’t all bad.

There are efforts to reintroduce reindeer, wolves and beavers. Mostly in Scotland. One imagines that they chose Scotland to avoid problems with wild beasts like the wolf attacking humans. This has probably got less to do with lower population density and more to do with the fact that no sane wolf would pick a fight with a drunk Glaswegian on his way home.

But we still have plenty of wildlife, and an awful lot of it is very visible. We’re currently plagued with deer. There are too many by far. Why? Not enough wolves, apparently. Foxes can be seen darting from garden to garden at night. Badgers are rarer, but can still be seen from time to time. Hedgehogs are also pretty common. Although, truth be told, you’re most likely to see these in a ‘roadkill’ sort of setting.

In the mornings you’ll hear a proper chorus of birdsong. In the afternoon, buzzards and eagles can be seen soaring in the skies, looking for prey. Come evening, the birdsong chorus starts up again. Pigeons seem to get noisier in the evening. Britain has the fattest, most aggressive pigeons in the world. In other countries, kids chase the pigeons away, the synchronized flock spiraling into the air causing much merriment for the naughty children. Here in the UK, the pigeons chase the kids to try and rob them of ice creams. They really don’t give a you-know-what. Pigeons are probably a Scottish species. Once night falls, the chorus dies down. And silence settles. Punctuated by haunting toots from owls.

Other than the Scottish pigeon though, there’s not much in the way of dangerous animals on these isles. There’s the False Widow, but no one’s ever been known to die from one of their bites. The weaver fish, with poisonous spines on its back, has claimed a fatality. Once. Back in 1927. So. Not very scary. For scary, we have to look to the adder, a snake belonging to the viper family. But it’s shy and hasn’t killed anyone for nearly forty years.

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I’ve seen all of these animals in the wild. My adder experience being many decades ago. I fished a snake out of Rickmansworth Aquadrome in a little net and took it back to my family. They weren’t impressed. I’ve seen grass snakes too. But there was one animal that I’d never seen till yesterday. The Slow Worm. It looks very much like a snake. But it is, so I read, a lizard. Without legs. It was sunning itself on the drive. It’s not a very big creature. It is very docile. It’s also very much a gardeners friend – it loves to feast on slugs. That’s him in the photos above and below.

This dear lizard has a very glamorous golden coat to it, don’t you think? I poked his tail to check he was still alive. He gave me a slightly aggrieved glance. But he stood his ground. That’s not usually a good defence tactic for most weakly armoured animals. He should strike a cobra pose. If it works for tiddles, then why not for him?

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