Why do I need to know about reptiles?

British reptiles are protected by law and their presence on a development site can have implications for construction projects in a range of sectors, including house-building, infrastructure and renewable energy. Our experienced ecology consultants have the knowledge, expertise and licenses to identify whether reptiles are present and, if necessary, arrange mitigation procedures to allow the development to proceed and meet all legal requirements.

Protection for reptiles

All British reptiles are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended by the CRoW Act 2000) and listed as Species of Principal Importance under the provisions of the NERC Act 2006. Grass snake, slow worm, common lizard and adder are protected against intentional killing, injury and against sale; whilst the rarer smooth snake and sand lizard are also protected against disturbance whilst occupying a ‘place used for shelter or protection’ and the destruction of such places. In addition, smooth snake and sand lizard are protected under the Habitats Regulations 2010, making them European Protected Species.

About native UK reptiles

There are 6 species of terrestrial reptile native to the UK: slow-worm (Anguis fragilis), grass snake (Natrix natrix), common lizard (Zootoca vivipara), and adder (Vipera berus) are widespread; and smooth snake (Coronella austriaca – found in England only) and sand lizard (Lacerta agilis – absent in Scotland) are rarer. Distribution of reptiles can be patchy and locally limited, and the habitats in which they are found are varied, ranging from coastal sand dunes and grassland to upland heath.

Terrestrial reptiles such as these depend on external sources, including sunlight and heated rock surfaces, to regulate their body temperature, making them ‘ectothermic’. For this reason, they tend to favour south-facing slopes and mosaics of exposed and sheltered microhabitats, which can provide shelter from the elements as well as basking areas for thermoregulation.

Terrestrial reptiles reduce their metabolic processes in the colder months of October to March by entering a period of hibernation, when they seek shelter. They are typically site-loyal and often return to the same hibernation areas every year.

Ecologists Steve Docker and Courtenay Holden were lucky to photograph the moment a juvenile grass snake was uncovered while surveying for reptiles

Ecologists Steve Docker and Courtenay Holden were lucky to photograph the moment a juvenile grass snake was uncovered during a reptile survey

What does a reptile survey consist of?

When carrying out ecology surveys of most development sites, our ecologists will typically first complete a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA), which will include habitat mapping (Phase 1 Habitat Survey), a desk study and an assessment of habitats present in terms of protected species potential. If the PEA indicates either the presence of, or the potential for, reptiles, more detailed surveys for reptiles may be required. This is in order to fully understand the use of a site by this species group and address any potential impacts of a development.

Surveys are undertaken during reptiles’ active season, with the best months for surveying being April, May and September. The methodology required to determine the presence or likely absence of reptiles commonly involves looking for reptiles that are either basking or seeking shelter. This is typically carried out through the deployment of ‘tins’ or ‘Artificial Cover Objects’ (ACOs). These are usually pieces of bitumen roofing felt, carpet and/or corrugated iron.

These are numbered and laid out across the site, with care taken to ensure that these are placed in the best areas for providing suitable basking surfaces in warm conditions, and warm hiding spots during inclement weather. They must also be visible from a distance to surveyors and are checked on a number of occasions during suitable weather conditions.

Reptile mat by Technical Director, Carlos Abrahams

Reptile mat by Technical Director, Carlos Abrahams

How can we mitigate the impact of a development on reptiles?

Once the impacts of a development on any reptile population are identified and assessed, a number of steps should be followed. If the development plans cannot be altered to avoid impacts on reptiles, mitigation will be required. This could include possible additional habitat creation to compensate for habitat loss, and/or work to enhance local reptile status.

Mitigation can assist in the conservation of reptile species and ensure that legal requirements are met for developments on land with reptile populations subject to the threat of decline. Mitigation should protect reptiles from harm during the development work and ensure there is no net loss of local reptile conservation status, whilst also being proportionate and pragmatic. The best option in each case will depend upon the species present and the availability of a suitable receptor site.

Baker Consultants

Baker Consultants have expertise in reptile surveys, mitigation, habitat creation, restoration and enhancement. To find out more about our work, visit our Terrestrial Ecology page or contact us today.

Read our reptile translocation case study here.