A look at Britain's native land reptiles

A look at Britain's native land reptiles

Posted 21st Jun 2017

There are six native land reptiles in Britain, three of which are lizards and three of which are snakes

They can be found all over the country, from the far north of Scotland to the south coast of England, from highland moors to lowland heaths, sand dunes to garden ponds.

Of these six, the most famous is the adder, our only venomous snake. They're actually considerably smaller than most people think, rarely reaching more than 50cm long. Animals of moorland, heaths and rough grassland, they can sometimes be seen sunbathing in groups early in the year as they emerge from their hibernacula. In the spring months, the famous 'dance of the adders' will take over, as males raise up and twine around each other, ritually wrestling as they look to win the favour of a female.

You're far more likely to spot a grass snake - the largest of our reptiles, they can reach up to a metre in length. Great swimmers, their favourite food is a frog – typically found in wetland habitats, they have a penchant for garden ponds.

The third is the shy smooth snake, something of a rarity now. It's restricted to the heathlands of the New Forest, Dorset and Surrey.

With regards to the lizard, it is the common lizard which is our most widespread reptile, and the only one which is native to Ireland. The beautiful slow worm is a legless lizard which spends most of its time underground, where it will feed on slugs and worms, while the third is the brightly coloured sand lizard, a real rarity of southern heaths and sand dunes on the Merseyside coast.

How to do it

All of our reptiles are sun-worshippers. You should find a south-facing slope, which has patches of bare ground that will warm up quickly, next to areas of cover into which the animal can flee should it be disturbed - you will then have a perfect reptile spotting location. Individual snakes and lizards will tend to have favourite sun-bathing spots too, so if you sit still and wait, they could well make a reappearance.

There are special spots (listed below) where you can look to spot the native land reptiles - however, if you're unable to get to them, there are steps you can take to make your garden reptile-friendly. Wildlife ponds will attract frogs, which will subsequently provide food for grass snakes, while compost heaps and log piles are great places for both grass snakes and slow worms.

Special spots

Higher Hyde Heath in Dorset is home to all six native land reptiles, as well as Dartford warbler, nightjar and silver-studded blue, all making their homes on an internationally important heathland site.

Berkshire, Greenham and Crookham Commons

Berkshire, Widmoor Heath

Berkshire, Snelsmore Common

Cambridgeshire, Fulbourn Fen

Cornwall, Upton Towans

Cornwall, Chun Downs

Devon, Bovey Heathfield

Devon, Stapleton Mire

Devon, Rackenford and Knowstone Moor

Dorset, Tadnoll and Winfrith

Essex, Two Tree Island

Essex, Stanford Warren

Glamorgan, Parc Slip

Kent, Sandwich and Pegwell Bay

Kent, Reculver and Country Park

Lancashire, Freshfield Dune Heath

Norfolk, Roydon Common and Grimston Warren

Northumberland, Holystone Burn

Northumberland, Annstead Dunes

Northumberland, Whitelee Moor

Northumberland, Fords Moss

Northumberland, Harbottle Crags

Powys, Abercamlo Bog

Suffolk, Blaxhall Common

Suffolk, Dunwich Forest

Suffolk, Sutton and Hollesley Commons

Surrey, Oakham and Wisley Commons

Surrey, Chobham Common

Surrey, Rodborough Common

Yorkshire, Potteric Carr

Yorkshire, Allerthorpe Common

Yorkshire, Strensall Common

Yorkshire, Fen Bog

Lead image courtesy of © Jamie Hall

Information courtesy The Wildlife Trusts

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