TEN of Britain’s rarest snakes will be plucked from Dorset’s heathlands and taken to Devon as part of a project to increase their population.

The timid and non-venomous smooth snake was first discovered in Bournemouth in the 1850s and spread in numbers across the South but can now only be found in Dorset and Hampshire, and some areas of Sussex and Surrey due to habitat loss.

Experts from the charity Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) are collecting the rare snakes from several well-populated sites in Dorset, including Bournemouth and Christchurch, and will release them in a nature reserve in Devon, where the snake has not been sighted in over 50 years.

These snake releases will continue every summer over the next few years in an attempt to repopulate the county.

Toby Taylor, from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which owns the nature reserve, said: “Since the 1980s the RSPB has been working hard with many other organisations to restore East Devon’s precious heaths for the benefit of a huge range of wildlife.

“Over the years we’ve seen a resurgence in the numbers of Dartford warblers, nightjars, silver studded blue butterflies and southern damselflies, all important species nationally with close ties to heathland. The return of the smooth snake will really complement this; it’s the icing on the cake for us.”

The small snake, which is grey or dull brown with black markings, is strictly protected by law due to its rarity, which makes it an offence to kill, injure, sell or trade, capture or disturb them or damage and destroy their habitat.

The re-introduction has been organised by ARC, East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust and the RSPB, and is fully supported and licensed by Natural England.

“This is a tremendously exciting project for us as it marks the beginning of what we hope will be the re-establishment of the species to Devon and potentially a huge expansion of range for smooth snakes,” said Nick Moulton from ARC.

He added: “Historically, much of the former heathland areas have been lost to many land use pressures, and the remaining sites are often fragmented and isolated. With this re-introduction all we do is give the animals a helping hand to cross these areas.”