A KEEN reptile enthusiast believes people would be surprised about the size of the grass snake population in the Winsford area.

Bren Blackmore is fascinated by the green and black ‘slitherers’ and spends time spotting, handling and photographing them, much to the delight of his five-year-old daughter Khia.

Winsford Guardian:

Anglers, walkers and river users have all reported seeing them this summer and the 33-year-old telecoms engineer, who has earned the nickname Bren Irwin after deceased Australian wildlife expert Steve Irwin, is keen for those who do come across a grass snake to know they are ‘not dangerous in any way’.

“They are common around here,” said Bren, who also has a long history of owning unusual pets.

“I live in the Way’s Green area and I have seen them along the river but I usually see them in the Newbridge Pool area.

Winsford Guardian:

“You’ll find them from April time until October. You’d never know they were there unless you knew where to look. You could go for a walk along the river and you’d probably pass 10 of them without knowing.

“I’ve got a little hotspot set-up, it’s a sheet of tin laid down. Grass snakes feed in the water mainly for fish and frogs, and they cool down quite a lot in the day so they need the sun to warm them up so that they can keep feeding during the day. They keep going to that sheet of tin because it stays hot throughout the day.

“Every time I lift it up there’s three or four snakes which spring out of little burrows.

“You can see them swimming as well. The grass snakes are drawn to the water so anywhere where there’s a body of water you’re likely to find them.”

His daughter Khia likes to go spotting with him, but would rather watch her dad do the handling of a species that can grow up to 150cm in length and live for 15 to 25 years

“She won’t hold one of the wild ones just yet, but she will touch it,” said the former Verdin High School pupil.

Winsford Guardian:

“I have got a royal Python at the house that I’ve had for 13 years. She’s fully grown, about five-feet long and about two inches thick in the middle. Khia will hold her, because she trusts her and sees her every day, but these wild ones she’s not got brave enough to pick one of them up, but she will.”

Through his lifelong love of reptiles developed from weekend visits to a nearby tropical pet store as a child, Bren is an experienced handler and says grass snakes are not aggressive.

He said: “Far from it. They’re more likely to slither away, or swim away, but they’re absolutely harmless. I’ve handled hundreds of them and never been bitten once.

“When I pick one up, they try and squirm away at first but they’ll never attempt to bite you.

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“What they’d rather do is pretty horrible, it’s called musking – they poo on you.

“That’s their first reaction if a dog, cat, or a bird or something was attacking it, it would do that, and if the predator got it in its mouth it’s pretty foul smelling and would probably drop the snake. That’s the first defence mechanism, and so I grab them at the other end. If you do get the poo on you, it stinks for ages.

“The second defence mechanism is to play dead, curl up on its back and stick its tongue out and stay still.”

Bren explained why he does what he does.

“It’s not something you see every day. Every time I post a picture of one on Facebook or Instagram, it gets lots of attention because it’s not something everyone sees every day,” he said.

Winsford Guardian:

“I’ve been into snakes since I was a kid. I always had mad pets – frogs, toads, and moved on to snakes when I was about 21 when I moved out.

“I’ve had corn snakes, boa constrictors, yellow anacondas, a 12 foot Burmese python, various royal pythons with different patterns.

“I’m just down to the one now. I downsized my collection because it was getting a bit too hard to manage with my job. I was working away.

“I’m known throughout Winsford for having snakes and mad pets. People I’ve not spoken to for years pop up on my Facebook every now and again asking advice, such as if they’re looking to buy a snake as a pet.

“For me it’s just something different. People like cats and dogs, and we have got cats and dogs as well, but something just fascinates me about amphibians and reptiles and stuff out of the ordinary.

“I just like the fascination of tropical animals really. I’d love to go all over the world and go looking for these types of animals. It’s called herping, you go to places like the Amazon or Indonesia. I’d love to do something like that, a little excursion into the jungle and see what we can find.”