How to create a reptile-friendly garden

David Chapman / 24 September 2015

Wildlife expert David Chapman explains how to provide the right food and habitats to attract reptiles into your wildlife garden.



What reptiles you might see in your garden

When aiming to attract any wildlife to your garden the first thing to do is to research which species you might get and what those species need.

With reptiles there are three likely species you can attract into your garden, roughly in declining order of probability we have: slow worm, common lizard and grass snake. Other British species, such as the adder, sand lizard and smooth snake, are only likely if you live close to more extensive suitable habitat or in a few specific geographical locations where rarer species occur. 

There are also a few non-native species of reptile such as the wall lizard, which have been released either accidentally or on purpose.

Providing food and habitats

The next aspect to consider is what these species need in terms of food and habitat.

Food

The smaller reptiles eat insects, spiders, small snails and slugs. The grass snake is the largest of the three and as such will also eat small mammals and being a good swimmer will also take a variety of amphibious prey such as frogs, newts and small fish.

Clearly to attract grass snakes a wildlife pond is a good idea but we should also aim to attract as much insect life as possible. To this end a mixture of native wildflowers is a good idea, these should be grown in a sheltered sunny area of the garden. Cultivated flowers rich in nectar are also good for insects. 

Because of the food chain on which reptiles are dependent we must not use slug pellets or insecticides in our gardens.

Find out how to control slugs and snails.

Habitats

As well as a pond, grass snakes like compost heaps because the warmth generated within them is ideal for their eggs to incubate. Compost heaps should be large and easily accessible, close to rough vegetation where grass snakes can escape to. We should avoid turning the heap during summer when their eggs could be inside.

Slow worms are also attracted to compost heaps because of their warmth but another way to create warm spots for reptiles to bask on (or under) is to put out corrugated roofing sheets or slates. 

I use a mix of different types of materials and find that slow worms like the bituminous roofing sheets which aren't quite as hot as the metal ones. Slow worms and grass snakes will go underneath these sheets to warm up in the mornings and as well as providing good conditions for the reptiles this also gives us a great chance of seeing them.

Lizards prefer not to get into such tight spaces because they have legs which make it difficult to move about, so for them I suggest a pile of rocks or logs in a sunny spot is good for basking. Log or rock piles should also be positioned close to rough grassland or a hedge because lizards only like to venture a few inches from cover to bask. 

Leave big gaps between the rocks in a pile to allow the reptiles somewhere to hibernate if they should wish. Allow log piles to decompose naturally to attract beetles and other insects for the reptiles to feed on. A solid stone path adjacent to tall grasses can serve well for basking lizards.

If your garden is large enough then try to create a mosaic of habitats within it and think about the routes reptiles might take from neighbouring countryside into your garden. It wouldn't be any good to provide ideal conditions in the garden if you have an insurmountable wall around its edge.

Read our six tips for creating a wildlife-friendly garden.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.