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Protected species: Meet the UK’s reptiles

30th March 2017

There are six native species of reptile in the UK – three lizards and three snakes. The adder, common lizard, grass snake and slow worm are protected from killing and injuring under Schedule 5 (Section 9) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).


These species are found around the country in a wide range of habitat, and may be present on your project’s site. With a short survey window for these species too – April to June and September –please get in touch (T 020 7043 0418) if you’d like to discuss the potential for reptiles on site.

Reptiles cannot regulate their own body temperature and rely on conditions that allow them to bask and avoid extremes of temperature.  Reptiles favour woodland with open areas for basking, sufficiently large populations of prey species and areas of close cover nearby for shelter and nests. Open spaces, glades, rides and paths that are exposed to sunlight also provide these kinds of habitat. In the UK, winters are too cold for reptiles, at which time they are in a dormant, hibernation-like state known as ‘brumation’.

The adder is the only venomous reptile in the UK, but is shy and non-aggressive.  Adders are widespread across the country. A relatively small, stocky snake, it prefers woodland, heathland and moorland, where it hunts lizards, small mammals and ground-nesting birds.

The UK’s largest snake, the grass snake, likes wetland habitats and can be found in dry grasslands and in gardens, using compost heaps to lay eggs. Widespread in England and Wales, grass snakes hibernate from October to April.

The smooth snake is very rare and is classified as a priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. Smooth snakes are found in sandy heaths in Dorset, Hampshire and Surrey and there are reintroduced populations in West Sussex and Devon.

The common lizard, as its name suggests, is the UK’s most widespread reptile. It is found across many habitats including heathland, moorland, woodland and grassland. Also, slow worms (actually legless lizards) are widespread throughout the country. Slow worms can be found in heathland, tussocky grassland and woodland edges.

Sand lizards are one of the UK’s rarest reptiles, due to the destruction of its heathland habitat, and a European Protected Species.  Favouring the same kind of sandy heathland habitat as the smooth snake, they can be found in Dorset, Hampshire and Surrey, and the sand dunes in Lancashire, and are reintroduced into other areas in the South East and Wales.

The Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust has a good summary of the legislation protecting reptiles and amphibians across the UK. Our experienced Ecologists will be pleased to discuss your specific project and advise on the reptile survey requirements and any potential mitigation measures – but don’t miss the short survey window for these protected species! (, 020 7043 0418).


protected species adder

adder protected species

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