There are only six native species of reptile in the UK – three snakes (Adder, Grass Snake and Smooth Snake) and three lizards (Common Lizard, Sand Lizard and Slow-worm). It’s not many, but we are an island located at the northern edge of the range of reptiles. Given the small number, it’s relatively easy to go about seeing all of them (three of them have even shown up in my own garden in the past!), as well as seeing a few introduced species along the way.
The first reptiles I ever saw in Britain were Adders and Slow-worms. As a child, my family would go to the Cotswolds with the aim of finding Adders. We had some reliable sites, but all of them have changed, and Adders can no longer be found there. Farming practices along with a perceived need for tidiness have spoilt their habitats there, although encouragingly, I did find a new site for them this year which isn’t very far away. There are a number of places locally where I can still see them each year as well as some locations further afield that I like to visit.
Slow-worms tend to be something I come across incidentally rather than something I go looking for, although there are some fairly reliable places for them near to me.
Common Lizards are probably the most abundant of our reptiles and are also a species that tend to be fairly easy to see.
Grass Snakes are also widespread but in my experience at least, not so easy to make a concerted effort to see locally, sightings being more opportunistic.
The Sand Lizard is the first native species for which it’s necessary for me to leave the county to see, as they occur in Dorset, Hampshire, Surrey, and Merseyside, along with a growing number of sites where reintroductions have taken place. I visit Dorset fairly often, so in the spring and summer months will usually have a look for them.
The Smooth Snake is our most rare native reptile. The first time I saw one was in Dorset. While walking a path through a stubbly area of heathland a Smooth Snake crossed my path. Rather than continuing its route it stopped, and I was able to take some photos.
Dorset is not only the best county I know of for our native reptiles but it’s also home to two species that have been introduced. The first is the Wall Lizard, which can be reliably found in certain coastal areas, particularly on Portland.
Further east, but still in Dorset, the very large European Green Lizard can be found. Despite their size, it took a day of searching until I finally found one, and even then all I could manage was a blurred photo of a tail as it quickly hid under the gorse.
Terrapins are another recent addition to the list of reptiles living in Britain, largely due to the rise in popularity of keeping them as pets, and the subsequent disillusionment that presumably followed. They aren’t yet known to have successfully bred in the wild, but they’ve tried, and with ever-rising temperatures, it’s probably only a matter of time, if they haven’t already succeeded. I’ve seen two species of terrapin in Britain so far, both locally – the Red-eared Slider and the Yellow-bellied Slider.
This list isn’t quite complete yet. There is one more introduced species of reptile in Britain that I haven’t yet sought out. It only occurs at two locations, both of them the result of zoo escapes – the Aesculapian Snake.
More photos of reptiles in Britain can be found in the galleries.
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