Reptiles in the UK: Legal Protection, Surveys and Mitigation

The UK has six native species of terrestrial reptiles: three snakes (adder, grass snake and smooth snake) and three lizards (common/viviparous lizard, sand lizard and slow worm, a species of legless lizard). Northern Ireland has only one species (common lizard) and Scotland has four – adder, common lizard and slow worm are fairly widespread, and grass snake has been recorded in Galloway. Smooth snake and sand lizard have very restricted distributions in the UK, largely confined to lowland heath in southern England, although sand lizard also occurs in sand dunes in northwest England and has been reintroduced elsewhere.

Smooth snake and sand lizard are classed as European Protected Species (EPS) under the Habitats Regulations. This makes it an offence to deliberately or recklessly:

·         Capture, injure or kill animals of such species

·         Disturb animals of such species

·         Take or destroy the eggs of such an animal

·         Damage or destroy a breeding site or resting place of such an animal.

All reptiles are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended), which makes it an offence to intentionally (or recklessly, in Scottish law) kill or injure a reptile. Breaching these laws can result in fines up to £5000 per offence and/or a prison sentence. Additionally, reptiles are a material consideration when assessing planning applications.

The four more widespread reptile species occur in a variety of habitats, including upland  and lowland heathland, woodland , rough grassland, railway embankments and brownfield sites. Reptiles hibernate over winter, in dense vegetation, stone walls, log piles, animal burrows etc.

An initial site walkover or Preliminary Ecological Appraisal will assess the likelihood of reptiles being present on a site. If reptiles are noted to be present or the habitat judged likely to support reptiles, surveys can be carried out between April and September, with April, May and September being the key months. Surveys typically involve a combination of walked transects looking for basking reptiles and using a network of artificial refugia such as corrugated metal or roofing felt sheets to attract basking reptiles. These surveys will determine which reptile species are present, and an indication of the population size, and enable the ecologist to develop methods to avoid, mitigate and compensate for any impacts.

Ellendale Environmental ecologists are experienced in reptile surveys and obtaining mitigation licences / developing bespoke mitigation if reptiles are present on or close to a site proposed for development.