Snakes: in my garden
I’ve seen a snake in my garden, what do I do?
Submit records to your local record centre (you can do this through our Dragon Finder app) and make sure you keep your garden reptile-friendly.
Grass Snakes (and Slow-Worms) are quite commonly seen in gardens. Grass Snakes may pass through gardens or revisit if there are suitable habitats. Try to identify the areas where you see the snake/s and simply maintain them as they are. If these features disappear the snakes might do too.
Like all reptiles, Grass Snakes need places to bask, places to forage for food and places to shelter and hibernate in. They can often be found on/in compost heaps or in log or stone piles. They primarily feed on amphibians and fish so are commonly seen in or around ponds. Grass Snake visits are often fleeting but maintaining the right kind of habitats can encourage them to return.
Most snakes seen in gardens are Grass Snakes (or Slow-Worms), but if you need help with identification please see our pages on native snakes.
It’s important to report your sightings to help build up local and national records of these declining species. Get in touch with your local Biological Records Centre and/or download our Dragon Finder app.
I think I’ve got Adders in my garden, what do I do?
Confirm identification before doing anything; even if it is an Adder it will probably not remain in the garden.
Although sightings do occur, the vast majority of reports of Adders in gardens turn out to be harmless Slow-Worms or Grass Snakes. Look carefully for a yellow collar behind the head – if this is present, it’s a Grass Snake, not an Adder. Try and get a photo of the snake to help with identification. Adders tend to prefer undisturbed habitat and seem to avoid gardens.
If you are sure it is an Adder, it is important to remember the following:
- Adders only bite when threatened – most bites are accidental through the snake being aggressively disturbed or deliberately antagonised.
- When disturbed, Adders normally just move on.
- Adders do not form ‘nests’ – most live a solitary life moving between feeding areas in the summer months.
- Newly born Adders may spend a day or two with their mother but they then quickly disperse.
- Snakes are very mobile and it is likely to be just passing through the garden.
- Death from Adder bite is extremely rare, there has not been a death in the UK for over thirty years – their venom is for use on prey which is primarily small rodents, it is not designed to kill people.
If you think you have seen an Adder in your garden it is advisable to:
- Bring pets and children indoors (if the snake is still around), as they are the most at risk.
- Allow the snake to move through the garden – carefully note patterns down the back or along the sides, the colour and size; check identification again – it is much more likely to be a Srass Snake or Slow-Worm.
- Know what to do in case of adder bite in the event of future sightings.
Adders have undergone widespread declines in the last century, and they are now protected by law against intentional killing and injury. Removing Adders from gardens is not necessarily a long-term solutions as other Adders/snakes will likely be present in the area; it can also quite difficult – by the time someone arrive to collect the snake it may have disappeared again.
If you are visiting an area known to be inhabited by Adders you can take some simple steps to keep safe:
- Where sturdy shoes or boots, not open-toed sandals.
- Keep dogs on leads.
- Stick to well used footpaths rather than straying through vegetation where adders might be hiding. Keep an eye on the edges of the paths where snakes may bask.
How do I encourage snakes into my garden?
If you provide places to hunt, bask and shelter, local snakes may visit your garden.
Grass Snakes enjoy similar habitats to amphibians so if you have frogs in the garden you may see Grass Snakes too. Try to maintain varying heights of vegetation, log/stone piles and a compost heap which can be used by both. Grass Snakes feed primarily on amphibians and fish – if you have a pond then this will help to attract them.
Like all reptiles, snakes need places to bask, forage and hibernate. The types of features mentioned above, that are easily accessible from one another, all increase the chances of grass snakes visiting. If you have suitable habitats and the garden itself is accessible, they will probably appear at some point, though grass snake visits may be fleeting.
It is important to report your sightings to help build up local and national records of these declining species. Get in touch with the local Biological Records Centre and/or use our free Dragon Finder app.
I have found eggs in my compost heap – what has laid them?
The only snake in the UK that lays eggs is the Grass Snake.
Grass Snakes seek out piles of rotting vegetation in which to lay their eggs in early summer; here the eggs are protected from predators and keep a good, constant temperature. Garden compost heaps are a excellent egg-laying site for Grass Snakes.
Adders and Slow-Worms both incubate their eggs internally and ‘give birth’ to live young.
Grass Snake eggs are small (2-3cm), white and leathery in texture. If you find eggs, report the sighting to your local Biological Records Centre and/or use our free Dragon Finder app; your sightings can help local understanding of where Grass Snakes occur.
Eggs should have hatched by October so avoid turning your compost until this point. Grass Snakes and their eggs are protected by law from killing and injury.
How do I get rid of snakes from my garden?
As a charity committed to the conservation of the UK’s reptiles this is not something we wish to advise on.
It is important to remember that Grass Snakes, the most commonly observed snake in gardens, are not venomous and you and your pets are quite safe. We do not advise on measures to remove them from gardens as it is considered unnecessary.
The only pets likely to be affected by a visiting Grass Snake are fish – they feed on fish and frogs. Despite this, it is important to bear in mind that a Grass Snake will have little overall impact on the fish (or frog) population – they do not eat large meals very often. If a lot of your fish have been disappearing there are likely to be other predators at work as well as the occasional Grass Snake.
Across Britain, snakes are disappearing because of a loss of reptile-friendly habitats. In some urban areas, gardens are becoming an important habitat for grass snakes, providing they have ponds and amphibians on which to feed.
Grass Snakes are very mobile and sightings are often fleeting (such visits to your garden should be cherished!). If you have a fear of snakes hopefully this is some reassurance, though you should also be aware that if there are reptile-friendly habitats in the surrounding area then other snakes may be present and may also visit; this is the primary reason why removing snakes from gardens is not a long-term solution. It’s unlikely there will be anyone who will remove a Grass Snake from your garden.
Snakes have undergone widespread declines in the last century, and they are now protected by law against intentional killing and injury. Please inform us confidentially if you have come across cruelty to any of the UK’s snakes.
A snake has come in to my house, what should I do?
If possible, shut all the doors leaving only an escape route back outside. If the animal is hiding or trapped contact the RSPCA.
Very occasionally a snake will venture into a house by accident or will be brought inside by a cat. It’s likely the snake will be scared and will often attempt to hide. If you can not easily catch the snake (or are not confident to do so) close all the doors to the room, leaving only an escape route to the garden/outside. Once it feels the threat has passed the snake should move back outside.
It’s unlikely the snake will want to keep coming back into the house so you don’t need to worry about it returning.
A Grass Snake is preying on my frogs/fish, what should I do?
Nothing! Grass Snakes are a natural predator of frogs (and fish) and it’s best not to interfere; one snake will not make much impact on the population.
Grass Snakes often hunt in water and will prey on amphibians and fish in garden ponds. It’s highly unlikely the snake will have a significant impact on these populations as they do not eat large meals very often.
There is not a lot that can be done to protect amphibians from their various predators and it’s not really necessary – frogs, in particular, play an important part in the foodchain and it’s best not to interfere.
If you choose to protect your fish by covering the pond with a net, make sure it has a very small mesh size as otherwise the snakes and other wildlife may become entangled and could die; grass snakes, like all UK reptiles, are protected by law against killing and injury.
Seeing a grass snake in your garden is the ultimate reflection of a happy, healthy wildlife garden. Encounters are often fleeting so cherish it while it lasts, you might never see one again! It is important to report your sightings to help build up local and national records of these declining species. Get in touch with the local Biological Records Centre and/or download our free Dragon Finder app to record your sighting.