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The Secret Life of the Adder (Hardback)

The Vanishing Viper

Colour Books Hobbies & Lifestyle > Nature Photographic Books

By Nicholas Milton
Imprint: White Owl
Pages: 168
Illustrations: 120 colour illustrations
ISBN: 9781399018166
Published: 30th May 2022



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In 2019 the most comprehensive survey ever of adders was published. According to ‘Make the Adder Count’ the species will disappear from most of Britain in the next 15-20 years unless we take action now to save it. But despite being a priority conservation species under the Biodiversity Action Plan, not a single nature reserve in Britain has been specifically designated to protect it.

Throughout our history we have systematically persecuted the adder over generations because it is Britain’s only venomous snake. Now the adder population is in dire straits, its rapidly declining numbers occurring on increasingly small, isolated and fragmented sites. According to Make the Adder Count 90% of the sites where it still occurs have 10 or less adult snakes and are now considered to be very vulnerable to local extinction.

Despite the adder population being in dire straits, it is still not too late to save it if we act now. This book contains a 10 point adder action plan which if implemented could help to restore the adder to its former range across Britain. Using many unique photographs of the species published for the first time, it also contains a history of the adder and reveals its secret life which has made it the most successful snake in the world. With a foreword by Iolo Williams, the BBC Springwatch presenter, this book is a story of our times, one which typifies the age of extinction through which we are all living and are all responsible.

As featured in

LandScape magazine

Article: Slithering Away

Saga Magazine

As featured in 'Could King Charles save the UK's only poisonous snake? Royal residences could provide a refuge for adders, as an expert warns they could be wiped out in Britain within 15 years'

Read the article here!

Daily Mail

This is a great book and should be regarded as essential reading for general naturalists, land-managers, and those interested in reptiles. Let us hope that it marks a turning point in the fortunes of this beautiful little snake.

Read the full review here!

British Wildlife, November 2022

'The adder, one of Britain’s three native snakes, needs as many friends as possible. Like most snakes it is saddled with a public image problem, and being venomous just makes things worse. Happily, Nicholas Milton is a firm friend of the adder, and moreover, an especially eloquent one. Indeed, the author’s unbridled affection for this misunderstood reptile leaps (slithers?) off every page of this thoroughly engaging book.'

Read the full review here.

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust, August 2022

'This is a very attractive and interesting book about a species which, these days, I hardly ever see.'

Read the full review here!

Mark Avery

As featured in

BBC Wildlife

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Shy, gorgeous and misunderstood, adders are magnificent and fascinating creatures which are nearing extinction for many reasons. This beautiful book is sadly necessary as many adders are killed illegally by people as well as by climate changes, dogs, game birds and destruction of habitat. As a fellow reptile lover, it is incomprehensible to imagine a world without them. But that is what could happen in 15-20 years if drastic changes aren't made immediately. Hopefully associations such as "Adders Are Amazing" and "Back from the Brink" will bring awareness to far more people. The focus of this book is the adder in Great Britain, the only venomous snake there.

Author Nicholas Milton describes his foray into adder observing with his mentor Ian Presst. He outlines the history of adders (aka viper, asp) from ancient times (Bible) to Cleopatra's suicide to Shakespeare to Thomas Hardy and includes legends and real snake catching. He describes the first pocket guide to reptiles, the anatomy of the adder including somatic hearing, habitat, temperature regulation, appearance, life expectancy, ecdysis (shedding skin), breeding, birthing, hibernation and their hibernacula and digestion. Symptoms of adder bite poisoning are discussed but it is important to remember that nearly all bites are defensive and death is extremely rare. Bites are more common in dogs which are allowed to run off leash than in people. Threats also include photographers and alarmist media which focus on maligning adders.

Reading this book reminded me of the snakes I have observed in Europe, especially Croatia, where the elusive Vipera ursinii macrops is found. My first such experience was unforgettable, one of the greatest experiences in nature in my life.

If you are at all interested in reptiles or learning more about them, this book is an absolute must. The photographs are incredible and there is plenty of information here for the beginner, novice and expert.

My sincere thank you to Pen & Sword and NetGalley for the privilege of reading this stupendous book about a topic near to my heart.

NetGalley, Brenda Carleton

Mr. Milton has produced a visually appealing clarion call to try and educate Great Britain and the world about the danger to the only venomous species of snake in Great Britain as well as it being the most widely dispersed snake in the world climatologically. Adders are present on every continent and are fascinating creatures. Well worth the time and the photography is excellent.


Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I never knew adders could be so fascinating.
Such beautiful snakes brought alive in this book.
You start to know and love adders with each page turn.

NetGalley, Karen Bull

About Nicholas Milton

Nicholas Milton is an ornithologist, historian and a journalist. He has worked for The BBC Natural History Unit, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Wildlife Trusts and Greenpeace and has also written extensively about the Second World War for The Daily TelegraphThe GuardianThe Daily Mail and The Independent. His first book, Neville Chamberlain's Legacy, was published by Pen and Sword in 2019.

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