When one thinks of snakes and lizards, the UK is not the first place that it would occur to look for them, and indeed they tend to be rarer and less seen than in hotter countries. This is partly down to the climate here – reptiles are mostly cold blooded, which means that they get their heat from the environment. While they can survive low temperatures they are incapable of doing much until they warm up.
To add to their problems in the UK, much of the heathland and moors that made such good habitat in the past has been given over to housing and other destructive uses.
However there are a few places where this is not the case
One of the best places for reptiles and particularly Lizard watching in the UK is Thursley Common in Surrey, I will post a full review of this nature reserve in the park review section.
This nature reserve is mostly heathland with scrub and small bushes, and contains 5 of the 6 reptiles that are found in the UK. Indeed in a recent hike one of the rangers managed to find all 5 on a hike through the reserve.
While of more inportance conservation-wise for sand lizards (until a few years ago, this was one of only a couple of places where sand lizards were confirmed as living) for me one of its most important aspects of this is the ease with which you can see common lizards. There is a walkway running across a swampy area of the park. This is a very good place to look at dragonflies, however in the summer months, the boards warm up in the sun and it becomes very easy to find lizards basking along this walkway (on the best day I have had in this reserve, I saw over 100 lizards in the space of around an hour).
Thankfully over the last 20 years or so sand lizards have been reintroduced into over 76 (as of 2011) different places, with a success rate of around 75%. In most cases reptile decline has been due to human behaviour, particularly encroachment of habitat, and cutting up of said habitat.
There is also a legless lizard that lives in the UK, called a slow worm.
There are 3 types of snake that live in the UK, and two of these are relatively widely spread. The grass snake and adder are both found in good habitat through the UK. While for the majority of the population, a snake encounter is going to be unusual if it ever happens, both grass snakes and adders are widely spread. Anywhere with the right mix of open grassland, bushes and suitable food source is likely to have some snakes. As they are cold blooded they don’t need to eat often and can lie still for long periods of time. This makes finding them frustrating. Your best bet is to identify good habitat, and then walk it – preferably on a sunny day, when there are few other people around to have disturbed them. Living on a crowded island makes these things hard to find all at once.
My personal encounters with these snakes have been while walking in army owned heath land, close to where I live. My first encounter with an Adder was while walking my 18 month old daughter. She has always been very independent, and was insisting on walking and was perhaps 20m behind me. The Adder crossed the path in front of me and rapidly disappeared into the grass. As one would expect Charlotte was carried for the rest of the walk (the venom that adders carry attacks the nervous system, so any bite should be treated by a doctor; with a small child or someone with a weak heart, a bite can kill). On other occasions, we have encountered grass snakes in the same area basking out on the path.
We have also encountered an adder at Thursley Common, though only once in many walks (and it was a brief encounter, with the snake vanishing quickly).