Reptile hideout

Oh la la…my last post was one month ago, and I have so many things to say!

Well, just to let you know : I took a Franco-Belgian holiday and I just started my new job at an amazing charity called Plant Heritage (hmm..little publicity post coming! 😀 ), so I’ve been pretty busy in the past weeks.

I started this post a while ago, so the landscape might have changed a little bit by now!
One month ago, I took part in a reptile survey organised by the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust in two sites having previous records.

The first one, Gong Hill, is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI…basically a kind of protected area). Located about two miles south of Farnham, it is a small hill covering only 7 hectares, but supporting five different species of reptiles.
At this time of the year, the heathland is just too beautiful (that’s still partly true now)!

The site is home to a large population of the heavily protected sand lizard (Lacerta agilis). This species is widespread in Europe, but it is the rarest lizard found in the UK, being restricted to heathland and sand dunes in the South-East, Cornwall and Wales.

The aim of this survey was to monitor the lizard population, and possibly see other reptiles species.
The surveying method is not very different from other reptiles : try to choose a sunny day (we got lucky), walk with the sun at your back (to see basking lizards), and be quiet (or at least try to!). The only tricky things with sand lizards are their efficient camouflage, and their tendency to hide in vegetation.

The day we did the survey was really hot and dry, so it was not the ideal conditions to observe sand lizards. But we managed to see 4-5 of them, mostly hiding in vegetation, or basking in half-shaded spots.
My first sand lizards sightings, and I must say it is a beautiful animal! The only thing I should remember for the next time : take a good camera where I can choose the focus point instead of my bloody compact cam! 😀
On the shitty pic below you should make out the shape of the lizard (head and tail indicated by arrows 😉 ).

Another way to survey for lizard (more an occasional way, I should say) is molted skin, which can be found in the vegetation. One of the surveyor found this piece, with the characteristics patterns of sand lizard.

A few reptile tins (see my adder post if you want an explanation) were placed in the heathland, but we did not get lucky this time. However, under one of the tin which was placed on the edge of the site, near woodland, we discovered…two small female slow worms (presumably young ones). Not lizards, but great sightings still!

The site is not only interesting for its reptiles, but also for other fauna and flora species. Crawling at an incredible speed on a sandy path was this large and hairy caterpillar. It belongs to the beautiful Fox moth (Macrothylacia rubi), and feeds on heather (in heathland, how surprising :D).

Where the ground is not covered by heather, it is filled with all sorts of mosses and lichens. The first picture shows the Reindeer Lichen (Cladonia portentosa), a heavily branched lichen which forms whitish tufts on the soil.
The second one is more enigmatic. I was quite surprised to see these bright red blobs at the tips of lichen branches and wondered what it could be. The lichen here is another species of Cladonia, and the red “caps” are in fact the fruiting bodies of the lichen (containing the spores) called apothecia.

The second site, located near Churt is a small, hilly portion of heathland at the back of a private property. It’s a beautiful and undisturbed site, which is only used to produce honey (bees tend to love heather, and heather honey, with its strong, aromatic taste, is absolutely gorgeous).

There had been reports of lizards and smooth snakes at this site, but we got really unlucky during that survey. Nothing visually, nothing under the tins. It was a really hot day, so reptiles might have been hiding in the vegetation instead of basking in the sun!

Nevetherless, some interesting sightings with a white form of heather (Calluna vulgaris) next to a reptile tin. White forms are much loved in cultivation, but rather rare in the wild. Spider haters, you’d better run! This is a large (a good 1,5 cm) but very common Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus). It is easy to recognize because the white dots on the back form a cross shape.

After a unsuccessful visit to this second site, we headed back for a lunch at Witley National Trust Visitor Centre…wildlife is never far! A striking moth, the Black Arches (Lymantria monacha), a woodland species feeding on oak.  Who said moths couldn’t be pretty? 🙂


  1. I have frogs and toads all around me as well as garter snakes and it’s reported that there are other mild mannered snakes around here too. But I only see frogs and toads extremely rarely… although I hear them. Some quite close to my home. But I’ve only ever seen one tiny garter snake going across a side walk on it’s way to a little brook not far from here. So though we can’t see them, we know they are there…

  2. Hi Finn! It’s a complicated question. The ideal conditions to see reptiles vary with the species, the sex, the time of the year…reptiles tend to avoid basking in the sun (which is the easiest way to spot them) on really warm days because they risk overheating, and because they don’t really need to (basking also increases predation risks!). The “best” hours are middle morning and late afternoon (but again, no guarantee!) on sunny or little cloudy days.

  3. Hi Sophie. My good lady and I were out for a walk on part of the Dorset Coast Path on Wednesday and we spied what I took to be a sand lizard. It didn’t hang around long for a photo oportunity!
    It was about 150mm long and a vibrant green colour. But I have to say on review I didn’t clock a brown dorsal stripe. Maybe I just didn’t notice one.
    The site is right on a cliff edge. Half way between Weymouth and Lulworth Cove. I can send Google Earth location if you like.

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