Reptiles rely on conditions that allow them to maintain their body temperature - they need to be able to bask and avoid extremes of temperature.

  • Access to direct sunlight.
  • Shelter from the elements, such as wind and excessive heat.
  • Sufficiently large populations of prey species.
  • Cover to avoid predators.
  • Suitable breeding sites for egg-laying species.
  • Suitable hibernation sites.

Management objectives

The goal is to develop viable populations that are secure and self-sustaining in the long term. Management of a habitat should therefore aim to maintain:

  • A diverse vegetation structure.
  • Sunlight at ground level - open areas within habitats.
  • Continuity of sufficient and appropriate habitat over time.
  • Connectivity of areas occupied and used by reptiles.
  • Features for breeding/egg-laying where appropriate.
  • Hibernation areas.

Management should also avoid:

  • Damaging activities that impact adversely on vegetation structure.
  • Activities that can cause direct killing or injuring of animals or significant disturbance.

The need to control body temperature governs much of the day to day activity of reptiles.Typically, reptiles aim to maintain body temperatures between 20 and 30oC. Habitats need to provide a structure that allows reptiles to bask or otherwise warm up using the sun's energy, but also to avoid extremes of heat and cold.

Avoid uniform habitat

Mowing or burning large areas of ground can create habitats that are too uniform and so may harm reptile populations. These approaches need to be timed to avoid direct harm to reptiles. Where there are small areas burnt or cut, the edges are often used by reptiles. Burning should always aim to avoid key reptiles areas. Survey work should aim to locate these areas and inform management decisions.

Reduce trees and scrub

Open habitat can be created by removal of trees and scrub; shading can be caused by trees both on a site or adjacent to it. Low levels of tree cover can benefit reptiles by providing a greater variety of ground temperatures; they also provide shelter from the wind and shade on very hot days. Tree roots can provide hibernation areas.

Species specific

Sandy traces on heaths or in dune habitats will provide egg-laying areas for sand lizards where this species occurs. Tracks created by mowing or by removing vegetation (e.g. with a bulldozer/rotovator) can also be valuable fire-breaks in grassland and heath habitats, but may cause increased access. For grass snakes, aquatic habitats (prey species include amphibians and fish) and egg-laying sites (e.g. compost/dung heaps) are important.

Reptile 'hot-spots'

Management should consider reptile 'hot-spots' - key features that provide ideal conditions, for example south-facing banks. Provided that these areas do not become isolated in large expanses of unsuitable habitat, the management of these 'hot-spots' (sometimes called 'foci') can be the most cost effective and reliable way of ensuring continued existence of reptiles on a site.

Reptiles don't need to be tidy!

If possible avoid the temptation to over tidy a site. Some disused industrial sites ('brownfield sites') are very important for reptiles - the disturbed ground and uneven structures provide ideal habitat conditions.

Landscape level

Hedgerows provide valuable corridors for helping movement of reptiles. Broad uncultivated margins, or areas along the hedges that are protected from grazing preferably on the sunny side of the hedge, are useful.

Small sites can be valuable for reptiles

Gardens, allotments and school grounds can all be managed to benefit reptiles. Connections between these area with nearby 'countryside' or with other gardens are important for encouraging colonisation and for sustaining populations.

For more information about encouraging reptiles onto smaller sites download our Dragons in your Garden leaflet

Successional habitats

Naturally, over time, different areas will become suitable as others become unsuitable. Managing such dynamic successional habitats over time can ensure long term survival of populations. However, you need to ensure sufficient connectivity within the site and sufficient time for newly created areas to develop as optimal habitat. Trees, both on and adjacent to reptile areas, can cause shade; ground plants such as bracken and bramble may need to be managed (often involving pesticides, through mechanical management is possible) to prevent heavy shading at ground level and loss of the ground vegetation important for providing the varied habitat structure.


For advice on reptiles and agri-environment schemes, please visit our page on reptiles and farming

For more in-depth information take a look at our Reptile Habitat Management Handbook