All the facts about reptile surveys

Adders are a native reptile species in the British Isles.

Why might I need a Reptile Survey?

The six native species of British reptiles have legal protection due to their diminishing numbers, which has been caused largely by loss of habitat quality. Of these, four species are protected from deliberate killing, injury and sale by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). These, the `common reptiles’, are the adder (Vipera berus), slow worm (Anguis fragilis), common lizard (Zootoca vivipara) and grass snake (Natrix helvetica).

The two rarer reptiles are the sand lizard (Lacerta agilis) and the smooth snake (Coronella austriaca), which are almost only found in areas around the south coast as their habitat consists of sandy dunes and heathland. Both are protected by a European Directive (UK: Habitats Regulations 2010) which restricts disturbing them or their habitat: a European protected species licence will almost certainly be needed to move them. Fines for breaking the law relating to these reptiles can extend to £5,000 per offence and a prison sentence of up to six months can be handed out.

Slow worm.

Phase 1 (Walkover) Reptile Survey (or Scoping Survey)

This can be carried out at any time of the year. An experienced ecologist visits the proposed development site and looks for suitable reptile habitats. They will identify habitats for specific ecological importance and check it for suitability for supporting reptiles. This survey also involves a desk study which involves checking with local record centres for any protected species recorded close to the site.

Phase 2 Reptile Presence/Absence Survey

If a local planning authority requests this survey, it can only be done at certain times of the year, depending on the reptiles’ activity level which is determined by weather conditions, but usually either in April to May or September. The survey involves placing reptile refugia (often called “felts” or carpet tiles) at the site, under which reptiles will take shelter from predators and use for temperature control.

The artificial refugia are laid in good reptile habitat over the site, and their location is logged using a GPS handheld device. The felts are monitored up to at least seven times to record activity and take photographs.

If native reptile species are found, a consultant can produce a method statement for the local planning authority which will explain how the reptiles will be contained or excluded from your development site for the time that they may be at risk, such as during demolition or build. The solution may be for an ecologist to carry out a hand search of suitable habitat prior to the works, and physically remove any reptiles to safety.

Common lizards.

Mitigation measures

If reptiles are found, steps to minimise risk of the development killing or injuring them must be taken. The best scenario is to adjust the plan to leave any reptile habitat in place and ensure that it is not disturbed, – or altering timeframes so that certain work is done at a time to avoid disturbing reptiles. If this is not possible, additional protection measures will be needed, for instance reptiles could be moved to a specially prepared suitable alternative habitat close to the site. It should be of a comparable size as the original habitat and safe from development.

How to get a reptile survey

To start a reptile survey, you need to contact a suitably qualified ecological consultancy like Arbtech. They will be able to explain what is required and when the survey will be done. Getting in touch with an ecological consultancy early on is recommended to reduce the chances of delaying your project. Walkover Survey prices are from £399 and Phase 2 Surveys, which involve several visits to the site, start from £1899.

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