Encouraging sun worshipers

Common lizard warming up Photo Jon Hawkins

Common lizard warming up Photo Jon Hawkins - Credit: Archant

Creat a space in your garden for reptiles to sun themselves and you could attract a set of pest controllers and have the pleasure of seeing rarely-spotted creatures, says Sarah Buckingham of Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust

Grass snake Photo Jamie Hall

Grass snake Photo Jamie Hall - Credit: Archant

We have six native reptiles in the UK: three lizard species and three snake species. Three of these are found in Hertfordshire – the common lizard, the grass snake and the slow worm. You are most likely to see slow worms and perhaps common lizards in your garden, especially if you live close to rough grassland, undisturbed areas, railway banks, woodland edges or heath. You might be lucky enough to have grass snakes too, and that’s more likely if you have a large pond (they like water) and live in a rural area.

Create the right conditions for reptiles and they will assist you by hunting all manner of less welcome garden visitors including a wide range of insects, snails and slugs that attack your plants, especially those in the veg patch.

Attracting reptiles

Slow worm Photo Amy Lewis

Slow worm Photo Amy Lewis - Credit: Archant

Being cold-blooded, reptiles need a place to warm themselves to become active. A reptile bank is a great way to help them do this. You may already have a fantastic basking spot in your garden – a very open area with a south-facing aspect will be perfect. If not, the following tells you how you can create one.

Pick a sunny south-facing, well-drained place that doesn’t get disturbed and where you are happy for the grass to grow a bit longer. Your bank could be any shape but try long and straight or crescent-shaped. If you have plenty of space, the bank should be around four metres long, two metres wide and about one metre high, but smaller banks can still provide useful sunning spots.

You can use a variety of materials. Some experts advise using building rubble, bricks, rocks, tree roots and cut timber, to create sunning banks as well as hibernating spots for reptiles. Wood chippings and loose top soil can be incorporated too, to pack it all together. Avoid including material that could decompose under rocks and bricks, as your bank may collapse.

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The bank should be covered with vegetation. One way to ensure it grows quickly is to remove the turf from the footprint of the bank and use it to cover the mound. Another option is to seed the top with a native wildflower mix. Or if you want specific wildflowers, choose those that grow in your area and are suited to the soil.

The rapid growth of vegetation on the bank will be important to its success. Add the occasional log on top too – these will provide great basking spots, as well as nooks and crannies to hide in.

Slow worms don’t often bask in the open like common lizards do, instead preferring to hide in undisturbed areas; under logs, in crevices, under corrugated sheeting or in compost heaps, which provide warmth. Creating an undisturbed log pile in your garden will keep slow worms happy.

Reptile bank check list

• A sunny, undisturbed south-facing spot in the open

• Long grass/vegetation nearby

• Bank material: rocks, bricks, rubble, tree roots, cut timber, top soil and wood chippings

• Turf to cover the bank

• Native wildflower seed mix to promote vegetation on topReptile mats

You can also provide a reptile warming-up spot in your garden by putting down a reptile mat. Roofing felt is ideal for this. Cut into 50cm x 100cm strips (or smaller if you don’t have room for a mat that big) and place in full or partial sunshine. Reptiles will be attracted to crawl under the mats to warm up in the morning before going hunting. Each mat should be put next to an area of undisturbed longer grass, which gives somewhere for reptiles to escape if they are disturbed. Move the mats every year to avoid them getting squashed into the ground, which would prevent the reptiles getting underneath. Once the sun has been up a little while have a peek underneath to see what’s crawled under.