Poison warning after snake in the grass bites the hand that seized it
Published Date: 27 August 2008
By Jenny Haworth
WHEN Billy MacAskill spotted a snake slithering through the heather, he thought he had the perfect photo opportunity.
Eagerly plucking the adder out of the undergrowth, the grouse beater posed for photos with members of his Highland shooting party.
Hours later, he was in hospital being told a bite he received on his thumb after losing grip of the snake could have been fatal.
Mr MacAskill said he did not realise there were any poisonous snakes in Scotland.
His scare has sparked advice to the public from Scottish Natural Heritage not to pick up or disturb adders if they are spotted in the wild.
After the bite, Mr MacAskill's hand went numb, but he did not get medical help for five hours, claiming he had been advised by gamekeepers and shooters that it was "nothing more than a scratch" and that he should finish his shift as a beater.
Mr MacAskill, a gardener, said he started feeling unwell immediately after the adder had bit him.
"By the time we got back to the bothy five hours later, I was feeling really bad and my hand had swollen up to about three times its normal size," he said.
After he finally sought medical advice, he was taken to hospital in Elgin, where he was told he should have gone for treatment earlier.
The 37-year-old, who was on his first grouse-beating shift and is now recovering at his home in Dundee, said: "I didn't think there were any poisonous snakes in the UK, let alone Scotland."
His brother, David, said: "Billy was told if it had gotten any further and reached his heart, it could have been fatal.
"They kept him in overnight and let it run its course. They gave him morphine for the pain and some antihistamines for the swelling."
Mairi Cole, the policy and advice officer for Scottish Natural Heritage, said it was important not to touch a snake spotted in the wild, or to go near it, and to get medical help immediately if bitten.
"Generally, people only get bitten if they do something to scare the snake," she said. "Picking one up is a common reason for getting bitten.
"They won't attack. They are not an aggressive species. They will only defend themselves. They will run away and they will be more scared of the person than the person is of the snake."
She said about 70 per cent of adder bites create only a very minor reaction, or no reaction at all. Bites usually have a serious impact only on people with a medical condition, or children.
Warnings have been posted about a growth in the number of adders in the Pentland Hills in recent years.
And earlier this year, more than 30 of the snakes were spotted at Galashiels Golf Club in the Borders.
It is thought a mild winter and warm May provided perfect conditions for the snakes.
Adders are protected from being killed, injured or sold under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Mr MacAskill is blaming the gamekeepers and shooters who employed him as a beater for his ordeal and believes they should have encouraged him to get medical attention straightaway.
"That was my first time grouse beating and will definitely be my last – not for £35 a day, anyway," he said.