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We live in Arlesey in Bedfordshire, and have found at least eight slow worms living in our garden. Are they rare in this area?

Sent in by Claire Howard, Bedfordshire

Although it has a snake-like appearance, the slow-worm (Anguis fragilis) is in fact a legless lizard.

It has a cylindrical body and its colour is usually a shiny, metallic grey or brown. A close look would reveal colour and shape differences between sexes, individuals and animals of different ages.  They differ from snakes in having closable eyelids, and easily breakable tails. This is known as autotomy and serves as a survival technique if they are attacked by a predator.
 
Slow-worms occur throughout most of Europe, including virtually all of Great Britain, although it tends to be more abundant in the southern counties. Like all UK reptiles, the slow-worm is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

The slow-worm is a very secretive animal, spending most of their lives underground or deep under vegetation. You are most likely to find them in compost heaps, or when they are basking openly in the sun or lying under bits of old wood, carpet, rubber, polythene sheeting or corrugated iron to absorb heat.
 
The few slow-worms we see are usually just the tip of the iceberg, as most slow-worms are rarely observed. In suitable habitats slow-worms can occur in considerable numbers, with over 1,000 per hectare recorded in parts of Southern England. Slow-worms are the most commonly reported reptile in urban areas, where they often occur in gardens.

As with many other species in Britain, the slow-worm has suffered dramatic declines in recent decades, mainly due to habitat loss and intensive land-use. When an area of its habitat is destroyed, the slow-worm population is almost certainly doomed as they do not travel far. Unless some suitable habitat remains very close by, it is likely the population will be lost. So the populations that remain in gardens such as yours could be very important to the survival of this species, especially in urban areas.
 
The slow-worm is considered to be the original gardener’s friend - they feed on pests such as garden slugs and snails and other invertebrates, and are completely harmless to humans. Unkempt areas in garden are an important factor, but having a compost heap could also provide a haven for slow-worm activity.
 
Click here for information on how to improve your garden for slow-worms and other reptiles and amphibians.

You can also find out about our summer nature survey, Make your Nature Count where you can tell us what's in your garden.

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