BRITISH REPTILES
 
Smooth snake Coronella austriaca & sand lizard Lacerta agilis
     
The smooth snake and sand lizard are very rare reptiles. The smooth snake is restricted in distribution to the sandy heaths of Dorset, Hampshire and parts of Surrey. The sand lizard also occurs in these areas, as well as sand dunes on the Dorset and Lancashire coast and it has recently been re-introduced to some of its former haunts in other parts of the country. The sand lizard is an egg laying species that feeds on insects and other invertebrates. The smooth snake gives birth to live young and feeds primarily on other reptiles including common lizards, grass snakes and even adders and other smooth snakes!
The smooth snake is a very rare animal. It is occasionally an issue for developers when development sites adjoin heathland habitats in Dorset, Hampshire and Surrey.
 
Developers don't often come into direct contact with smooth snakes and sand lizards because they are associated almost exclusively with rare habitats that receive full statutory protection. However, in some instances where a proposed development site adjoins a statutory protected site (such as a Site of Special Scientific interest or a Special Area of Conservation) the statutory nature conservation organisation may insist on survey work to establish the presence and size of smooth snake and sand lizard populations on the adjoining land. This is often standard practice as part of an Environmental Impact Assessment to assess the potential impacts of a development proposal on nature conservation interests within and outside a potential development site. Typical issues raised by English Nature, especially with regard to new residential developments, include the potential impact of increased recreational pressure and the predation impact of cats associated with the new properties.
Sand lizard basking on artificial refugia
   
Grass snake Natrix natrix  
   
The grass snake is widely distributed throughout England and Wales and may be found in a wide variety of habitats that include grassland, open woodland, hedgerows and marshland. It is an excellent swimmer and can sometimes be seen hunting small fish, tadpoles and frogs in ponds, ditches, lakes and streams. The grass snake is an egg laying species. Eggs are usually laid in decaying vegetation where the decomposition process keeps them warm and speeds development of the embryos. Grass snakes hibernate in sheltered and frost free sites from October to the beginning of March.
Grass snake basking amongst vegetation in an old allotment
Adder Vipera berus  
   
The adder is our only poisonous reptile, it feeds primarily on small mammals. It generally prefers dry localities ranging from heathland and open woodland to upland moors. The live young are born in September and feed on earthworms, insects and small lizards until they are large enough to tackle small mammals. Adders hibernate from October to March, often in large clusters where there are hollows and fissures in the ground that provide shelter from freezing winter temperatures. Despite its bad press the adder's bite seldom poses a serious threat to a healthy person and bites are extremely rare as adders are shy creatures that avoid contact with humans.
Adder
Common lizard Lacerta vivipara  
   
The common or viviparous Lizard is the most widespread of the British reptiles. It can be found in a range of habitat types including heaths, grasslands, woodland clearings, gardens and hedgebanks. Common lizards feed on insects, spiders and other types of invertebrates that are caught on the ground and amongst vegetation. They are agile climbers and may often be seen sunning themselves on vegetation, logs, tree stumps and walls. Female common lizards give birth to between five and twelve live young in July or August. Hibernation takes place between October and February deep inside grassy tussocks and other similar places where there is protection from winter frosts.
Common lizard rescued from a development site in Essex
Slow-worm Anguis fragilis
 
     
The slow-worm is a legless lizard that can grow to a length of 40cm. Slow-worms inhabit a wide range of habitats, but tend to prefer rough, overgrown grassland with a thick mat of vegetation on the surface which provides cover and safety from predators. Slow-worms have the widest habitat preference of the British reptiles and are frequently found in urban and suburban environments. They bask in the open less frequently than other reptiles and can therefore be harder to detect in the field without undertaking proper survey work. They feed on a range of invertebrates although slugs are a major feature in their diet. The young are born alive, usually in September and are approximately 7cm in length. It takes 3-4 years for slow-worms to reach maturity, they are long lived species and in captivity have been reported to reach 54 years of age. They hibernate in the ground between October and February.
Slow-worm
     
Introduced reptiles
     
A number of non-native reptile species have been released into the wild in the UK. The only species which thrives is the european wall lizard Podarcis muralis that is restricted to a few sites in the southern counties where it is usually associated with buildings and lives in close proximity to man. A number of terrapin species have been released into ponds throughout the UK, most commonly the red-eared terrapin Trachemys scripta elegans. Although not yet proven to breed in the British climate these introduced terrapins can survive for many years in ponds and lakes. They are voracious feeders on native invertebrates and amphibians to such an extent that they pose a serious ecological problem in some areas.
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