A SNAKE which can grow up to 8ft long was spotted in a Southend park- nearly 2,000 miles away from its native habitat.

Simon Murdoch, 62, was walking his ten-month-old Alsation puppy Tara in St Laurence Park on Sunday when he spotted the large reptile in front of him.

He was able to take some photos before it escaped.

Experts from the Dangerous Wildlife Animal Rescue Facility, known as Dwarf, have identified the reptile as a four lined rat snake, normally found in Italy and the Balkans.

Mr Murdoch, of Hampton Gardens, Southend, said his main instinct was keeping Tara well away from the snake due to fears she could be hurt.

He said: "I was walking my Alsatian puppy when I saw a large snake on the path in front of me. It was about 3ft to 4ft long, raised its head, opened its mouth and stuck its tongue out then slithered off into the long grass near the children's playground.

"I took some photographs and kept my puppy well away from it. There is obviously a colony of them living there in the long grass. There is a children's playground there and people walking their dogs across the park fields so there is a risk of somebody or their dog being bitten."

He has called on Southend Council to cut the grass at the park, next to Southend Airport, which he claims has reached two metres in some places

The four lined rat snake, which has four dark stripes running along a yellowish brown body, is not venomous- although it may bite.

Mr Murdoch was told by Ian Newby, from Dwarf, the reptile could be an escaped pet.

Mr Newby said: "They might bite if but they aren't venomous. If anyone spots the snake the best thing is to get a pillowcase and put it over your hand then pick up the snake and pull the pillowcase over it and tie the top. That's the easiest and safest way of catching a snake.

"The warm weather has probably brought it out. snakes are very resilient and though it prefers warm temperatures it will probably hibernate during the winter. It will go under someone's floorboards and catch mice. They are pretty tough."

He added that four lined rat snakes are good climbers and can often be found in tree tops.

Anyone who catches the snake can take it along to the Dwarf centre in Stuart Close, Great Wakering where it will be cared for until it can be rehomed.

A Southend Council spokesman, said: “Whilst the grass within the play area is regularly cut, the remaining land is an area maintained and managed as meadow/natural habitat. These areas are cut for the benefit of the flora and fauna in the area and the grass it meant to be long here.

“Whilst as suggested, it is likely that this is a four lined pet rat snake which are non-venomous and not interested in humans, we have asked for a second opinion on the species to be sure.”