How do I tell the difference between a snake and a slow-worm?
Answer 

The slow-worm (pictured right), as a legless lizard, possesses the following lizard-like features which distinguishes them from snakes:

  • Cylindrical body.
  • Bullet-shaped head.
  • Moveable eyelid allowing them to blink.
  • Smooth, shiny appearance.
  • They can also detach their tails if attacked (like all UK lizards).

Often you may only catch a glimpse of the animal so 'shiny appearance' is the feature to keep in mind. Slow-worms also behave slightly differently to snakes - they prefer to warm themselves by sheltering under objects, like stones or patio slabs, or in compost heaps rather than basking out in the open.

What species of snake have I seen?
Answer 

Grass snakes are easily identifiable by their yellow and black 'collar' (pictured right). They are the most commonly observed snake in gardens, particularly near ponds, canals and rivers. Grass snake markings can be varied but they are commonly a shade of green or brown with 'bar' markings down each side.

Slow-worms though mistaken for snakes, are actually a species of legless lizard. Slow-worms are coppery, gold, brown or grey and have a shiny appearance. They differ from snakes by having a more cylindrical body and a moveable eyelid allowing them to blink. They can also detach their tails if attacked (like all UK lizards). Slow-worms are the most common reptile in garden in England and Wales, often found underneath slabs and within compost heaps.

Adders have a very distinctive zigzag pattern down the back. Male adders tend to be grey with black markings and females are brown with dark brown markings. They are rarely seen in gardens as they prefer undisturbed habitats.

Smooth snakes are rare and secretive an
d are very unlikely to be seen in gardens as they depend almost wholly on patches of heathland. Smooth snakes often have a butterfly-shaped marking on the top of the head, with dark lines on the sides of the head behind the eyes.

See our snake identification poster to find out what you've seen

I have grass snakes in my garden, do I need to do anything for them?
Answer 

Firstly, note down the areas they are commonly seen in; these might be near compost heaps, among log piles or in/near the pond. Once you've identified these areas you need to ensure that you continue to maintain them as they are. If these features disappear, so might the snakes. You can find more information on maintaining your garden for reptiles by visiting our Dragons in your Garden section.

Grass snakes, like all reptiles, need places to bask, places to forage for food and places to shelter and hibernate in. They can often be found on/in compost heaps or in log or stone piles. They primarily feed on amphibians and fish so are commonly seen in or around ponds.

Grass snake visits are often fleeting but maintaining the right kind of habitats can encourage them to return.

It's important to report your sightings to help build up local and national records of these declining species. Get in touch with your local Biological Record Centre and your local Amphibian and Reptile Group (ARG).

I think I have adders in my garden, what shall I do?
Answer 

Although sightings do occur, the vast majority of reports of adders in gardens turn out to be slow-worms or grass snakes. Look carefully for a yellow collar behind the head - if this is present, it's a (harmless) grass snake, not an adder.

If you are sure it is an adder, it is important to remember the following:

  • Adders only bite when threatened - most bites are accidental through the snake being aggressively disturbed or deliberately antagonised. When disturbed, adders normally just move on.
  • Adders do not form 'nests' - most live a solitary life moving between feeding areas in the summer months.
  • Snakes are very mobile and it is likely to be just passing through the garden.
  • Death from adder bite is extremely rare, there has not been a death in the UK for over thirty years. Their venom is for use on prey which is primarily small rodents, it is not designed to kill people.

If you think you have seen an adder in your garden it is advisable to:

  • Bring pets and children indoors (if the snake is still around), as they are the most at risk.
  • Allow the snake to move through the garden - carefully note patterns down the back or along the sides, the colour and size. Check identification again - it is much more likely to be a grass snake or slow-worm.
  • Know what to do in case of adder bite in the event of of future sightings.

Adders have undergone widespread declines in the last century, and they are now protected by law against intentional killing and injury. Removing adders from gardens is not necessarily a long-term solutions as other adders/snakes will likely be present in the area.

In some areas there may be a local reptile expert who is willing to provide you with further information on where adders are found locally - try contacting your local Amphibian and Reptile Group (ARG).

How do I encourage snakes into my garden?
Answer 

Grass snakes and amphibians enjoy similar habitats so try to include varying heights of vegetation, log/stone piles and a compost heap - which can be used by both. Grass snakes feed primarily on amphibians and fish so if you have a pond then this will likely help attract them.

Like all reptiles, snakes need places to bask, forage and hibernate. The types of features mentioned above, that are easily accessible from one another, all increase the chances of grass snakes visiting. If you have suitable habitats and the garden itself is accessible, they will probably appear at some point, though grass snake visits may be fleeting.

You can find more information on maintaining your garden for reptiles by visiting our Dragons in your Garden section.

It is important to report your sightings to help build up local and national records of these declining species. Get in touch with the local Biological Record Centre and your local Amphibian and Reptile Group (ARG) if you have seen reptiles in your garden.

I have found eggs in my compost heap, what has laid them?
Answer 

The only snake in the UK that lays eggs is the grass snake. They seek out piles of rotting vegetation in which to lay their eggs in early summer; here the eggs are protected from predators and keep a good, constant temperature. Garden compost heaps are a viable egg-laying site for grass snakes. Grass snake eggs are small (2-3cm), white and leathery in texture.

If you find eggs, report the sighting to your local Biological Records Centre and your local Amphibian and Reptile Group (ARG); your sightings can help local understanding of where grass snakes occur. Eggs should have hatched by October so avoid turning your compost until this point.

Grass snakes and their eggs are protected by law from killing and injury.

How do I get rid of snakes from my garden?
Answer 

It is important to remember that grass snakes, the most commonly observed snake in gardens, are not venomous and you and your pets are quite safe. We do not advise on measures to remove them from gardens.

The only pets likely to be affected by a visiting grass snake are fish - grass snakes feed on fish and frogs. Despite this, it is important to bear in mind that a grass snake will have little overall impact on the fish (or frog) population, they do not eat large meals very often.

Please read our identification guide carefully if you are unsure of the snake species in your garden.

Across Britain, snakes are disappearing because of a loss of reptile-friendly habitats. In some urban areas, gardens are becoming an important habitat for grass snakes, providing they have ponds and amphibians on which to feed.

Grass snakes are very mobile and sightings are often fleeting, such visits to your garden should be cherished. If you have a fear of snakes hopefully this is some reassurance, though you should also be aware that if there are reptile-friendly habitats in the surrounding area then other snakes may be present and may also visit; this is the primary reason why removing snakes from gardens is not a long-term solution.

Snakes have undergone widespread declines in the last century, and they are now protected by law against intentional killing and injury. Please inform us confidentially if you have come across cruelty to any of the UK's snakes.

A snake is eating my frogs / fish, what can be done?
Answer 

Grass snakes often hunt in water and will prey on amphibians and fish. It's highly unlikely the snake will have a significant impact on these populations as they do not eat large meals very often.

Unfortunately there is not a lot that can be done to protect amphibians from their various predators; frogs in particular play an important part in the food chain and it's best not to interfere.

If you choose to protect your fish by covering the pond with a net, make sure it has a very small mesh size as otherwise the snakes and other wildlife may become entangled and could die; grass snakes, like all UK reptiles, are protected by law against killing and injury.

Seeing a grass snake in your garden is the ultimate reflection of a happy, healthy wildlife garden. Encounters are often fleeting so cherish it while it lasts, you many never see one again.

It is important to report your sightings to help build up local and national records of these declining species. Get in touch with the local Biological Record Centre and your local Amphibian and Reptile Group (ARG) if you have seen grass snakes in your garden.

I think I've seen an exotic snake, what shall I do?
Answer 

Occasionally exotic snakes appear in gardens; such snakes are nearly always escaped pets.

If the snake you have seen does not match any of the descriptions of native snakes contact the RSPCA.

Do not attempt to catch the snake yourself as it may be venomous.

A snake habitat is threatened, what can be done?
Answer 

All native reptiles are protected by law against intentional killing and injury. If you suspect incidents where the law might be being flouted, please inform us.

If any British reptiles are present on a development site, or a proposed development, then steps must be taken by the developers or planners to ensure individual animals will not be killed or injured. This often involves relocating the animals to a suitable habitat.

It is important to report any reptile sightings to your local Biological Record Centre and your local Amphibian and Reptile Group (ARG) so that consultants carrying out preliminary surveys are aware of their presence at the earliest opportunity.