Often associated with warmer and more exotic climates, reptiles are important members of our ecosystem. Britain is home to four snakes: Adder, Grass Snake, Barred Grass Snake and the endangered Smooth Snake.
Our island is also home to three lizards: Common lizard, Sand lizard and a legless lizard that looks like a snake, confusingly named a Slow Worm.
These magnificent seven are little to be worried about. Snakes are incredibly in tune with their surroundings using vibrations in the ground and other acute senses to map their surroundings. Whereas most snakes have a bad reputation for being dangerous, our native reptiles pose almost no threat at all. Only the Adder, a member of the viper family, has any venom and only a tiny minority of people would react badly to one of their bites. These beautiful creatures are becoming increasingly threatened recently and this is thought to be as a result of people being scared of their ‘poisonous’ status.
The NHS states that ‘deaths from adder bites are rare. There have been 14 reported deaths since records began in 1876, with the last death in 1975.’ This is despite around 100 reported Adder bites each year in the UK. They pose almost no threat at all and are very placid in compassion to our other snakes, usually only biting when handled. In comparison around 6 people die from wasp and bee stings in the UK each year.
Reptiles are widespread throughout the country. Our rare Smooth Snake however is confined to small focused populations on heathlands in Dorset, Surrey and Hampshire, as well as reintroduced populations in Devon and West Sussex. Smooth Snakes are often confused with Adders as they mimic their form and markings as a defence mechanism.
Most snakes prefer to live away from humans as they are sensitive to vibrations in the ground and humans are very heavy footed. Grasslands and meadows and heathlands are a favourite of reptiles as they need some open areas to bask in to warm up. Grass snakes are accomplished aquatic hunters and will often hang around ponds feeding on frog, newts and even fish.
Reptiles love compost heaps both to live in and Grass Snakes will often lay their eggs in them, so get that compost heap going. Not only will you be getting free compost, but you will also be creating a nursery for those little snakelets!
Reptiles are fascinating creatures to watch and pose effectively no threat to humans. Just follow some simple rules and tread gently and you might be lucky enough to see some cold-blooded critters.