Assistant Ecologist, Peter Hacker, talks about Reptile Surveys

At Wildwood Ecology conducting protected species surveys is an integral part of our work and this includes assessing the ecological value of a site for one or more of the six native reptile species found in the UK.

Common species of reptile include the common lizard, slow-worm and grass snake which can be found throughout the country. The elusive adder, the UK’s only venomous snake, is also widespread although it is a shy animal and rarely encountered. The other two reptile species, the sand lizard and the smooth snake, have restricted distributions being confined to sandy heathlands in Dorset, Hampshire and Surrey.

For most species suitable habitat can be found within heathland, moorland and grassland, although they can often be found within gardens or on the edge of golf courses. Habitat can also include small streams and ponds, grass snakes, for example, are excellent swimmers and often hunt amphibians and fish.

When assessing the suitability of a site for the likelihood of use by reptiles we look to see if there is enough basking habitat as well as places for the reptiles to shelter. As cold-blooded animals reptiles need to spend time in the mornings, and sometimes the afternoons, lying in the sun to warm up their bodies.

If we consider that a site has the potential to support a population of reptile species we will then conduct additional surveys such as a presence/absence survey to determine which species are present, how many reptiles there are and to approximate how reptiles use different areas of the site. This could be followed by a translocation survey based on the results of the presence/absence survey or conducted on the assumption that a significant reptile population is present.

A translocation survey requires us finding a suitable receptor site in which to relocate the reptiles and then capturing and transporting said reptiles to their new home. In order to do this we use small mats made from bitumastic felt, which heats up very quickly and attracts reptiles to bask underneath. We will set out a large number of these mats across the site over a period of several weeks or even months, during this time the reptile population can be assessed and relocated. A translocation survey is the best way to ensure that reptiles are not harmed during your development.

As an Assistant Ecologist for Wildwood Ecology I have had extensive experience of conducting both types of survey for common reptiles within the UK. I conducted my first reptile survey in 2014 when I spent 3 months over the summer period visiting the same site each day to translocate reptiles. It was during this survey that I was trained to handle adders safely, something that I was definitely nervous about when I first started!