What is the legal status of snakes?
Snakes are a vulnerable group of animals that are becoming scarce in many areas due to loss of habitat and persecution by humans. As a result they are protected from killing and injury under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
As the rarest of the three types of snake, the smooth snake's habitat is also protected.
Froglife have produced a leaflet 'Snakes in Garden - Snakes need friends' which is available to download from their website.
Which snake is it?
There are three native snakes in the UK, and one legless lizard (the Slow-worm), which may be confused with them (see the Reptiles section).
- Grass snake - The largest snake between 90-150cm. A shade of green in colour with short black vertical bars and/or spots running along its sides and sometimes along the back. It usually has a yellow, white or cream collar behind the head.
- Adder - Can grow up to 80cm. Males have a grey background colour and females brown. Both sexes have a thick, black zig-zag pattern along the back.
- Smooth snake - Are slender and grow to no more than 70cm. Coloured beige, grey or greyish brown, with a double row of dark blotches or a single row of dark bars along its back. Have a dark stripe on either side of head, running through its eyes and usually has butterfly or heart shape on top of head.
All-black (melanistic) snakes do occur in all three species, but they usually have some characteristics to distinguish them apart.
There's a snake in my garden, can I remove it?
It is rarely necessary to remove any reptile from a site unless it is in a dangerous position or poses a potential threat to the occupiers of the site. It is quite likely that the reptile is only passing through the garden or looking for food.
The adder is the only native snake that is venomous and may therefore pose a threat. If you have an adder in your garden and want it to be removed, you will need to contact a licensed authority such as the Herpetological Conservation Trust. Froglife can provide information on adders and the law and on how to handle snakes.
However, even if snakes are removed from your property, if you have suitable habitat, they may well re-appear.
How can I prevent snakes returning to my garden?
By keeping areas of long grass mown short you can try and discourage adders from entering your property. Areas of long grass are important habitat to many other species; therefore, only keep these areas mown short if you do have a problem with snakes coming into your garden.