Snake bite on Braunton Burrows

Joseph Bulmer

Woman bitten by poisonous adder calls for warning signs in tourist hot spot

BIDEFORD pensioner Maureen Southerden is calling for warning signs to be erected after being bitten by a poisonous adder on Braunton Burrows.

Maureen, 72, and her husband Ian were walking their dogs there last week when she felt a sharp stabbing pain in her leg and looked down to see the snake still coiled beside her foot, before slithering off.

“It was about 18ins to 24ins long and with distinctive black diamond markings,” said Ian.

He initially phoned 999, but then decided it would be quicker to drive direct to the North Devon District Hospital in Barnstaple, where Maureen was detained for 24 hours.

She was closely monitored, including by ECG machine, and the spread of the poison was marked by doctors in outline up her leg. Luckily, the effects remained quite localised and she did not need anti-venom serum.

Days later, however, Maureen’s lower leg was still swollen and tender, the puncture wounds were still clear to see and she was finding it difficult to put her foot to the ground.

She told the Gazette: “This happened within 50 yards of the main car park down Sandy Lane. I am concerned there were no signs warning of the presence of adders. Local people may be aware there are adders there, but a lot of visitors also go there and there is no way they would be aware of this.”

She had not been aware of the snake’s presence until she was bitten, said Maureen. She could only think that it was sunning itself and either she put her foot too close or one of their dogs had disturbed it.

She said: “At the hospital they were amazing. When I told them I had been bitten by a snake we hardly had time to sit down before we were called through. I was then told I would have to stay for 24 hours and be monitored. If there were signs of the venom really getting into my system and I started palpitations or signs of stress, I would have been given serum. I felt hot and was possibly running a temperature, but that could have been because of the anxious situation. It is a frightening experience when you realise you have been bitten by a snake.”

A North Devon District Hospital spokesman said the hospital does keep anti-venom, to be given to patients as necessary, on the basis of clinical need.

He advised that, if bitten, the victim should remain still, immobilise the affected part of the body and get someone to call the emergency services to take them to accident and emergency as soon as possible. Walking and moving around could increase the spread around the system.

“It is rare to see an adder, let alone be bitten by one. Adder bites are very rare and in the vast majority of cases there are no lasting ill effects to patients.” he said.

Tom Hines of the North Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Biosphere Service, which has Braunton Burrows at its heart, said that while he was not aware of signs actually saying ‘beware adders,’ pictures of the snakes were included on interpretation boards which had been sited at the Saunton Sands, Sandy Lane and Broadsands car park areas.

Adders were an important species in the nature reserve. They were on the decline and should be looked after, he said. To hear of a person being bitten by an adder was very unusual.