What we offer

Greenlight Environmental Consultancy offers a wide range of services with respect to reptile surveys, including:.

  • Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (“PEA”) – This is an initial site assessment to identify habitats present on site that may support protected species. This includes a site visit and a desktop assessment. A PEA is typically required as a first step to address the ecological aspects of a planning application. The PEA would recommend if further reptile surveys are necessary, and appropriate mitigation and enhancements for the proposed development.
  • Presence/absence surveys – When suitable reptiles habitats are found within a site for development, reptile surveys may be conducted to determine the presence or likely absence of these species. This usually includes placing artificial refuges such as corrugated metal sheets and roofing felt, and subsequently searching for basking animals on or under them. These surveys can be conducted in April, May and September.
  • Population estimates – The methodology for these reptile surveys are similar to the presence/absence surveys. As these surveys aim to establish the population size and distribution of reptiles on the development site, a higher number of site visits will generally be required.
  • European Protected Species Mitigation Licences – If the proposed works are expected to have an impact on smooth snakes or sand lizards, a mitigation licence will need to be granted by Natural England in order to proceed with the works. The licence should include sufficient information on the reptile populations on site (survey data), and appropriate mitigation measures.
  • Installation and removal of mitigation fencing – Reptile fencing is used to seal the perimeter of a site for development in order to help capture reptiles within this site, and to avoid re-colonisation.
  • Translocation works –This includes capturing reptiles, often by placing artificial refuges on the site, and moving the reptiles found to a suitable, safe and specially prepared receptor site. Translocation can only be done under a mitigation licence granted by Natural England and should be used as a last resort.
  • Overseeing works (including toolbox talks and hand/destructive searches) – This involves a watching brief during construction works to avoid killing or injuring individual reptiles. The hand search and destructive search are to be conducted only after a capture program and aim to find remaining reptiles which may be difficult to detect under shelters.

Background

There are six native reptile species in the UK, which in terms of status can be split into two groups.

Rare reptiles:

  • Sand lizards (Lacerta agilis)
  • Smooth snakes (Coronella austriaca)

Widespread reptiles:

  • Adders (Vipera berus)
  • Common lizards (Zootoca vivipara)
  • Grass snakes (Natrix natrix)
  • Slow-worms (Anguis fragilis)

Reptiles are ectothermic. They cannot regulate their own body temperature and rely on the external environment to maintain relatively high temperatures when they are active. In the UK, the winters are too cold for them to function, they thus undergo a type of hibernation called brumation. Unlike mammals they do not enter a state of “sleep”, but rather a dormancy stage.

All UK reptiles are declining to varying degrees as a result of habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation caused by humans (agricultural intensification, urban development, etc.), and heathland fires. Even on protected sites they are not always safe, as standard habitat management measures do not always encourage reptiles to thrive (Edgar et al. 2010).

Legislation

All reptile species are protected under UK and European Union (“EU”) laws.

Rare reptiles are listed under:

Under these legislations smooth snakes and sand lizards are protected from:

  • Capturing, killing, injuring and disturbing;
  • Taking or destroying eggs;
  • Damaging or destroying breeding/resting places;
  • Obstructing access to resting places; and
  • Possessing, advertising for sale, selling or transporting for sale, live or dead (part or derivative).

Common reptiles are listed under:

Under this legislation they are protected from:

  • Killing and injuring; and
  • Advertising for sale, selling or transporting for sale, live or dead (part or derivative).

In simple terms: all development proposals which have the potential to impact on local biodiversity, and Local Planning Authorities (“LPA”) require sufficient information to make informed decisions that wildlife can be protected from injury or disturbance during the development. They often require a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (“PEA”), and further reptile surveys if these species are likely to be present.

If reptiles are present on a site for development, it is likely that a European protected species (“EPS”) license and an appropriate mitigation strategy will be required in order to proceed with the works.

Habitats

Reptiles need a diverse vegetation structure, with both open areas for warmth, and nearby cover for protection from predators and the elements.

Rare reptiles are confined to one (lowland heathland for smooth snakes) or two habitats (sand dunes and lowland heathland for sand lizards), and therefore have a limited range (Edgar et al. 2010).

Widespread reptiles occupy a more diverse range of habitats which vary per species. Favoured habitats include heathland, moorland, most types of grassland (especially chalk grassland and rough grassland with bramble scrub), coastal dunes, vegetated shingle, woodland glades and rides, allotments, hedgerows, disused quarries, and road, railway and canal embankments. Grass snakes are also associated with wetlands and may be found in gardens, especially those with ponds (Edgar et al. 2010).

Reptile dispersal abilities are limited. Good connectivity between reptile habitat patches is therefore very important.

Timing

Reptile surveys are highly seasonal and although an initial assessment can be conducted at any time of year, presence/absence surveys can only be conducted between mid-March and mid-October. Reptile surveys must be conducted in suitable weather conditions with a temperature between 9 and 18°C, and in dry, sunny conditions.

Reptile surveys (timings)

Mitigation and enhancements

There are numerous forms of mitigation and enhancements, with each design being tailored specifically to address issues raised at the site in question. Previous mitigation designs have included the installation of reptile fencing and translocation of individuals, destructive searching, creation of artificial hibernacula, bunds and grasslands. Enhancements may include the reduction of shade on suitable habitats, the creation of a vegetation mosaic through planting schemes, and the creation of refuge habitats such as artificial hibernacula, log piles and bramble patches.

References

Edgar, P., Foster, J. and Baker, J. (2010), Reptile habitat management handbook. Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Bournemouth.

Froglife. (1999), Reptile surveys: an introduction to planning, conducting and interpreting surveys for snake and lizard conservation. Froglife Advice Sheet 10. Froglife, Halesworth.

Griffiths, R.A., Inns, H. (2003), Herpetofauna worker’s manual. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough.

HGBI. (1998). Evaluating local mitigation/translocation programmes: Maintain best practice and lawful standard, HGBI advisory notes for amphibian and reptile groups (ARGs), Herpetofauna Groups of Britain and Ireland, c/o Froglife, Halesworth.