It is important to consider if reptiles are present on a site, prior to development, or altering a site as they are protected by legislation and planning policy. To determine the likely impact of a development on local reptile populations, reptile surveys may be required, and appropriate mitigation measures may need to be implemented to reduce any adverse impacts to reptiles and their habitat.

Reptiles: ecology

Adder © Adam Hammond /
Adder © Adam Hammond /

In the UK we have six species of native reptiles. These comprise three snake species, adder (Vipera berus), grass snake (Natrix natrix) and smooth snake (Coronella austriaca), and three lizard species, common lizard (Zootoca vivipara), sand lizard (Lacerta agilis) and slow worm (Anguis fragilis). Although it may look like a snake, slow worm are actually legless lizards.

Reptiles typically, although not exclusively, reside in rough grasslands, heathlands, ecological corridors and the boundaries of habitats. The different species of reptiles have varied habitat preferences however in general, they require a mosaic of habitats and varied vegetative structure, including areas of shelter as well as open areas for basking, south-facing slopes, high prey availability, and suitable breeding and hibernating sites such as log piles.

Will reptiles and their habitat impact my development plans?

There’s a chance that reptiles could affect your development if a breeding site or resting place is found to be present. As different species of reptiles have varied habitat preferences, it’s very important to identify whether the land you propose to develop can support the species, and this starts with a survey.

Reptiles: surveys

Reptiles: An experienced ecologist handling a grass snake on a reptile survey © Frankie McDowell
Reptiles: An experienced ecologist handling a grass snake on a reptile survey © Frankie McDowell

To determine whether reptiles may be present on a site, there are a range of different surveys that can be undertaken. The first step would be to undertake a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA), during which any suitable reptile habitat will be identified. In addition, a reptile Habitat Suitability Assessment (HSA) can be carried out in which specific assessment criteria can be used to determine the quality of the habitat for reptiles. The HSA can highlight the need for further surveys and can be used to support the evaluation of the site for reptile populations.

Presence/absence reptile surveys can be carried out once suitable reptile habitat has been identified on site and will consist of a visual search for basking reptiles and checking of natural and artificial refugia. Artificial refugia consists of small squares of roofing felt or corrugated tin that are placed within suitable reptile habitat. The reptiles will use these as the refugia material absorbs heat, encouraging reptiles to bask on or beneath the mats.

The artificial refugia are then checked on seven separate visits during the active season (generally mid-March to early October depending on the weather) although July and August are generally sub-optimal due to high temperatures. Based on the result of the presence/absence surveys, a population size estimate can be determined (either small, medium or large). This figure will help to inform the most appropriate mitigation measures to ensure minimal risk to any reptiles present on a site.

Reptiles: legal protection

Reptiles: Grass snake sloughing it's skin © Oli Brown /
Reptiles: Grass snake sloughing it’s skin © Oli Brown /

Our rare UK reptiles of smooth snake and sand lizard are fully protected under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. This legislation makes it an offence to deliberately capture, injure or kill a smooth snake or sand lizard; deliberately disturb in such a way as to be likely to impair its ability to survive, to breed or reproduce, to rear or nurture its young, to hibernate or migrate, or to affect significantly the local distribution or abundance of the species to which they belong; to damage or destroy a breeding site or resting place; and to keep, transport, sell or exchange, or offer for sale or exchange, any live or dead, or any part of, or anything derived from a smooth snake or sand lizard. Under this legislation these two species are therefore European protected species (EPS).

Sand lizard and smooth snake are also protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, as amended, from disturbance whilst occupying a structure or place which it uses for shelter or protection and obstructing access to any structure or place used for shelter or protection. More common species of grass snake, common lizard, slow worm and adder are also protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, as amended from killing and injuring.

Our six native reptile species are also Species of Principle Importance (SPIs), also known as priority species as listed under Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Commentates (NERC) Act 2006 and are therefore a material consideration in the planning process in line with the National Planning Policy Framework.

Licensing requirements for reptiles

Mitigation for the more common reptile species of grass snake, adder, common lizard and slow worm, is not subject to licensing by Natural England. However, licensing for EPS and rarer species of smooth snake and sand lizard is required. If the proposed work has the potential to kill, injure or disturb either of these species, or damage their habitat, appropriate mitigation which seeks to avoid these impacts should be devised and implemented under licence from Natural England.

Reptiles: mitigation

Reptiles: Artificial reptile hibernacula created as part of a habitat management plan ©
Reptiles: Artificial reptile hibernacula created as part of a habitat management plan ©

Potential mitigation measures may include carrying works out under an ecological watching brief, cutting vegetation in staged cuts to persuade reptiles out of the area, or a full trapping and translocating scheme where a programme of reptile translocation is carried out whereby reptiles are physically removed from the development area, using reptile exclusion fencing.

A management plan may also be required in order to maintain a site for reptiles in perpetuity. The management plan may include the creation of artificial hibernacula such as log and rubble piles, implementing native planting scheme and habitat maintenance to increase the overall value of the site for reptiles.

How we can help

Thomson Environmental Consultants have a team of experienced ecologists capable of undertaking a range of reptile surveys, and the associated technical reporting. We understand that each project requires a customised approach to ensure the most time and cost-effective way of acquiring results and meeting developmental needs.

Our comprehensive reports can be used to inform planning applications and in addition, we provide ecological contracting services including habitat creation and mitigation works to implement necessary management measures that are recommended after the completion of the initial reptile surveys.

Arrange a preliminary ecological appraisal with us today

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