Reptile and amphibian biodiversity

Background

The reptiles and amphibians are often considered together as a single group (sometimes called the herptiles). They are cold-blooded vertebrates.

  • Reptiles (snakes and lizards) live in places where they have opportunities to bask in the sun and also shelter, in order to regulate their body temperature. Snakes eat frogs, birds’ eggs and small mammals; lizards eat insects. All British reptiles hibernate.
  • Amphibians (in UK, frogs, toads and newts) lay their eggs in water and have young (tadpoles) that live in water until they are adult, when they move onto land. Adults eat slugs, worms and insects; tadpoles eat water invertebrates.

Species of reptiles and amphibians provide opportunities for education and community engagement in urban greenspace. Many species are protected by law. Actions are recommended to maintain habitats suitable for reptiles and amphibians in urban greenspace.

Protected species

  • Adder (Vipera berus) – protected from being killed, injured or sold under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981).
  • Grass snake (Natrix natrix) – protected from being killed, injured or sold, under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981).
  • Smooth snake (Coronella austriaca) – very rare, fully protected under The Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981).
  • Common lizard (Zootoca vivipara) – protected fauna species under Appendix III of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention), also protected from being killed, injured or sold under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981).
  • Sand lizard (Lacerta agilis) – quite rare, listed in Annex IV of the EC Habitats Directive and Annex II (and Recommendation 26) of the Bern Convention, also protected under Schedule 2 of The Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (Regulation 38), and Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). It has very limited distribution.
  • Slow worm (Anguis fragilis) – protected from being killed, injured or sold under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981).
  • Toad (Bufo bufo) – sale and trade prohibited under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981).
  • Natterjack toad (Bufo calamita) – quite rare, found on sand dunes and heaths. Listed in Appendix II of the Bern Convention and Annex IVa of the EC Habitats Directive, also protected by Schedule 2 of The Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 and Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981).
  • Common/smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) – sale and trade prohibited under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), stronger protection in Northern Ireland under The Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985.
  • Palmate newt (Lissotriton helveticus) – sale and trade prohibited under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981).
  • Great crested newt (Triturus cristatus) – listed in Annexes II and IV of the EC Habitats Directive and Appendix II of the Bern Convention, also protected under Schedule 2 of The Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994 (Regulation 38) and Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981).
  • Common frog (Rana temporalis) – sale and trade prohibited under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), stronger protection in Northern Ireland under The Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985.
  • Pool frog (Pelophylax lessonae) – has been reintroduced to only a few sites in UK, not presently protected under British law but listed in Annex IV of the EC Habitats Directive.

Practical considerations

Most reptile sites are large areas on the urban fringe – a viable population needs a lot of space. Heathland areas are particularly good, although adders have been found on allotment gardens.

Reptiles need basking areas. These can be maintained by mowing or soil disturbance. In the case of adders, it is quite important that basking areas are not also key picnic or play spots (bites can be very painful, although they are seldom fatal).

Reptiles also need shelter. Pieces of corrugated iron make very good shelters, as do piles of brush. Again, in the case of adders these should not be near where people (especially children) will easily notice them.

Reptiles and amphibians will only colonise a new greenspace if there is a nearby population to supply immigrating individuals. Opportunities may exist to gain colonists from a species translocation programme where habitat will be destroyed elsewhere.

Amphibians need water bodies that do not dry out before the end of May. The water (e.g. a pond) needs to be still (not running), free of coarse fish, and have a bank that slopes gently out of the water so that amphibians can climb out.

Amphibians also need damp, sheltered places to hibernate in winter, and a plentiful supply of tasty slugs and snails (which also benefit from damp places). Frogs in urban and suburban areas rely almost entirely on garden ponds.

Further information

Forest Research’s Habitats and Rare, Priority and Protected Species (HaRPPS) – database for forest managers containing information about reptiles’ and amphibians’ habitat requirements.

UK Biodiversity Action Plan, list of protected herptiles.

Case studies

Natterjack toads have a very restricted distribution in UK. One of their remaining sites is the Ministry of Defence site at Woolmer Forest, on the outskirts of Bordon in Hampshire. On emerging from the ponds as toadlets, they like to bury in soft sand to escape predators. At Woolmer (and many other sites), sand kicked out of burrows by rabbits provides the perfect refuge. Managing rabbit numbers in the face of myxomatosis, rabbit haemorrhagic disease and other local factors is therefore especially important to the conservation of natterjack toads. (This research was not performed by Forest Research).

Services

Forest Research open-habitats staff can provide advice and consultancy services on habitat management, and our hydrology staff on creating water bodies suitable for amphibians. Forest Research also has extensive experience in managing rabbits to protect herptiles such as smooth snakes and sand lizards.