The UK has six native species of reptile, which can be found in a variety of habitats including dry heathland, brown field sites, sand dunes, scrub, railway embankments, grassland, allotments, compost heaps, gardens, stone walls and road verges. Grass snakes will tend to favour areas with a water body such as a pond whilst sand lizards and smooth snakes are often associated with dry heathland and sandy soils. Reptiles are active during the spring and summer months and will go into hibernation during the winter period, seeking shelter in burrows and under log piles. Woodland can often provide important hibernation sites for reptiles.
Survey Types & Timing
Reptile surveys (often called presence/absence surveys) can only be carried out whilst the animals are active; the reptile survey season generally runs from April to September with the optimal survey months being April, May and September. The objective of the reptile survey is to find basking reptiles; a reptile survey entails placing a number of reptile mats or tins around the site which are then checked over the course of seven visits, during suitable weather conditions. If reptiles are present on site they may be found basking underneath or on top of the mats/tins and can be recorded accordingly.
Legislation & Planning
All of our native reptile species are legally protected. The adder, common lizard, grass snake and slow worm are fully protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) which makes it illegal to kill or injure these animals.
The sand lizard and smooth snake are fully protected under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and Schedule 2 of The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended) making them both a European Protected Species. As a result it is illegal to kill, injure, capture, handle or disturb these animals. Any areas used for breeding, resting, shelter and protection are protected from being damaged or destroyed and it is also illegal to obstruct such areas.
Local planning authorities are obligated to take protected species and habitats into account when assessing a planning application. If a development is likely to have an adverse effect on reptiles sufficient survey work must be carried out, in order to provide the planning authority with enough information to make a decision.
The Next Step
If reptiles are present on site there are a number of mitigation options available to avoid committing an offence:
- Keep the reptiles on site by changing the layout so that areas being used by reptiles are not developed.
- Move reptiles to areas within the site which are to be retained for conservation purposes and develop the remaining land.
- Move reptiles (translocate) to a suitable identified receptor site. Surveys of the proposed receptor site might be required in order to confirm that it is suitable for the introduction of a new population.
Certain activities involving sand lizards or smooth snakes will require a European Protected Species (EPS) licence from Natural England.