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Adder in the UK
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How likely are you to get bitten by a snake in the UK?

Rising exotic pet ownership is causing a worrying increase in the number of people being treated for snake bites

Ed Cunningham
Written by
Ed Cunningham

Thanks to their freaky, slithery appearance, snakes are one of the most feared animals in the UK. And, to be honest, that’s perfectly understandable. From being strangled by a boa constrictor to being paralysed by the fangs of a diamondback rattlesnake, death by snake is a very, very rough way to go.

If you’d always thought that living in the UK would keep you safe from snake bites, well, think again. According to The Guardian, snake bites in the UK are on the rise, with medics having treated 321 snake bites over the past 11 years. 

So should you be worried? Well, it depends. When it comes to wild snakes, only three species are native to the UK – the adder, the grass snake and the smooth snake – and only one of those, the adder, is venomous and likely to bite anyone. It’s estimated that there are around 50 adder bites in the UK every year, with very few of those requiring any medical treatment.

While you should always get an adder bite checked out by a doctor, serious illness is exceedingly rare and no one in the UK has died since 1975. In other words, wild snakes in the UK aren’t a big problem.

So where has this recent rise in snake bites come from? Well, that’d be pets. Yep, so long as you’ve a licence, it’s actually perfectly legal in the UK to keep exotic venomous snakes like king cobras, rattlesnakes and pit vipers. In 2020 there were 508 venomous snakes registered in the country. 

This is the part that is actually worrying – so worrisome, in fact, that the British Medical Journal has called for the law to be tightened on owning dangerous pets. Of the 321 snake bite cases registered over the last decade or so, 13 of the victims were under five years of age and one person – a reptile conservationist bitten by a king cobra – actually died. 

In short, snake bites are on the rise, but the likelihood of it happening to your average joe is extremely low. Unless you own a poisonous snake. Or someone else’s escapes. Argh!

If you think you’ve been bitten by a snake – even if you don’t reckon it’s a venomous one – the official advice is to call 999 or go to A&E immediately.

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