Page last updated at 11:49 GMT, Sunday, 2 August 2009 12:49 UK

Hopes over grass snake recovery

Grass snakes
Two female grass snakes were spotted basking in the sunshine

The first sighting of grass snakes in seven years at a Tyneside site has led to hopes that a project to restore them has been a success.

The Gibside estate in Rowlands Gill, has one of the most northerly recorded populations of grass snakes in the UK.

However, as none had been seen since 2002 it was feared that the population had become extinct.

A recovery programme at the National Trust-run site attempted to improve the habitat for the reptile.

The £25,000 funding came from the SITA Trust Enriching Nature Programme.

'Fantastic news'

A team, mostly consisting of volunteers, cut down trees in important locations to allow snakes to bask in the sunlight, and constructed hibernation piles and compost heaps for egg laying.

No snakes were found during regular surveys by an ecological consultant in 2007 and 2008.

However, recently two female grass snakes were spotted, basking in the sunshine.

Helen Carlton, assistant landscape manager at Gibside, said: "This is fantastic news as the grass snake population at Gibside has severely declined over the last 20 years with no records since 2002.

"The recovery programme is in its last year of funding and at the end of this year we will review the work that has been carried out to ensure we continue to encourage the population of grass snakes in the area."

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