St. Patrick may have driven the snakes from Ireland, but reptiles have scored one for their side across the sea in England.
In Worcester, audio equipment manufacturer Coomber Electronic Equipment Ltd. has been forced to delay construction of a new assembly plant until a colony of slow worms on the site can be relocated.
Slow worms (Anguis fragilis) look superficially like snakes, but are actually legless lizards. One way to tell the difference: Slow worms have eyelids; snakes do not. Duh!
Adult slow worms can grow to a maximum length of 50 centimeters. They feed on worms and grubs and can live 30 years in the wild or 54 years in captivity.
In the United Kingdom, the slow worm has been granted protected status, alongside all other native British reptile species. The slow worm has been decreasing in numbers, and under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981, it is illegal to intentionally kill, injure or sell them.
Slow worms were found on the construction site following a survey and will have to be relocated to a new habitat before Coomber can break ground on the new facility. (At last report, the lizards said they’d like to go to Blackpool.) At least the plant will still get built-eventually. When finished, the facility will include workshops, an assembly line and research facilities on the ground floor and offices on a mezzanine. The company employs approximately 40 people. You can read more about Coomber vs. slow worms here.
Coomber’s story is familiar to us Yanks, who’ve been dealing with the Endangered Species Act for 35 years now. While I agree with the act in principal, it’s certainly had some unintended tragicomic consequences, thanks to vague language, overzealous enforcement and a pronounced lack of common sense. One of my favorites is the plight of developers in Southern California, who have seen plans for housing, factories and a hospital go by the wayside to protect an endangered sand fly. Or, there’s the case of California homeowners who were prevented from clearing firebreaks to protect the habitat of an endangered kangaroo rat-only to see homes and habitat alike go up in smoke from rampaging wild fires.
It shouldn’t be that hard for man and beast to share the planet. No one in Worcester seems to be kicking up much of a fuss about the delay. With luck, the relocation won’t be too costly or take too long, and assemblers and slow worms alike will enjoy their new digs.