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What is a Reptile Refugia?

‘Refuges’ are flat objects placed on the ground in a sunny spot – they absorb warmth from the sun and also provide cover from predators, making them perfect places for reptiles.

Sheets of corrugated tin (onduline roof sheets are best) or roofing felt are ideal, but slate roof tiles are less obtrusive in smaller or more traditional gardens.

By occasionally lifting these refuges, you may get a chance to see some of our more elusive species.

Successfully attracting lizards and grass snakes into gardens can be tricky since it depends largely on whether there are any populations locally. However, there’s nothing to stop you from trying.

Where to place your refugia?

Lay refuges where the best biodiverse habitat is, and use mini topographical features, e.g. banks humps, or hollows or depressions when you can. As a general rule, a location between grassland and scrub or woodland are often the best first option for placing refuges. Think dry not damp, choosing a sunny locations.

Wear gloves, cutting any light woody scrub or thick vegetation as necessary using secateurs or garden shears, so that the refuge lies close to the ground or cut vegetation.

What reptiles might you see?

Grass snake: Proficient hunters of frogs, toads and other small creatures but will rush for cover at the first sound of humans approaching.

Adder: The UK’s only venomous snake. While it’s more common than you might think, it is very shy.

Smooth snake: It’s very rare and can only be found on sandy heaths in a few counties in England.

Slow worm: Not a worm or even a snake, but a legless lizard – see image below of one spotted at our plot.

Common lizard: Timid, lightning-quick and sun-worshipping. The common lizard stays close to dense cover so it can quickly hide, but we spotted the one below at our plot.

Sand lizard: Digs burrows for shelter, both for night-time refuge and for hibernation. They are found on sand dunes and dry lowland heath.

When to look for reptiles?

Reptiles are ectothermic. This means they require an external ‘boost’ to their body temperature to become fully active.

Reptiles achieve this effect by positioning themselves in places of increased warmth. This can involve ‘basking’ on a heat-gathering surface in the sunshine (in the open or amongst some vegetation) or under objects (refugia) that absorb heat.

Much of this behaviour occurs during the morning and late afternoon but potentially at any time of the day, depending on season and weather patterns. This presents us with an opportunity to lead to their discovery.

(Froglife 2021)

How to check your Reptile Refugia

1. Approach with the sun roughly behind you, tread carefully, quietly and move slowly. Reptiles are very sensitive to vibration.

2. Look carefully for reptiles on the top surface first and then around the refuge edges before attempting to lift them and look underneath.

3. Use a suitable tool, e.g. a short stick, placing it under one edge and raising it just off the ground before completing the lift fully with the other hand. Be ready to replace the refuge if necessary and move away quickly without recording at all. It has been known for bees and wasps to make nests under refuges and disturbance can cause them to get angry.

4. Look very carefully, sometimes reptiles are semi-buried in the ground layer vegetation beneath and are very difficult to see. Take your time. Do not pick up animals. If you have a camera, take a snap.

5. Carefully replace the refuge and any vegetation.

Who we support

Our programmes support the emotional and mental wellbeing of young people, usually aged between 16 and 25. We run programmes specifically to support the young LGBTQ+ community for ages 11 to 15 and 16 to 25. Occasionally, we run programmes for particularly vulnerable groups, such as young people with mild to moderate learning disabilities or young carers.

Why it’s important

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the UK is in the grip of a mental health crisis with young people worst affected. NHS figures show that there has been a 50% rise over the last three years in the number of young people requiring mental health support. The NHS is overwhelmed, resulting in a quarter of a million children in the UK unable to get NHS help and an average waiting time of 21 weeks for a first appointment.

Our impact

The Wild Mind Project offers an alternative pathway for mental wellbeing.  Through nature connection, creativity and mindfulness, we increase young people’s sense of wellbeing, helping them to feel valued, optimistic and resilient. University College London evaluates our programmes and has found our data to show a consistent and significant increase in wellbeing for the young people who attend our programmes.

Meet the team

Directors, staff and volunteers at The Wild Mind Project share a belief that nature offers innumerable benefits for mental health. We have come together from diverse backgrounds with a broad range of expertise and lived experience, to support young people experiencing mental ill-health in the city of Brighton and Sussex.


Berny Simcox (she/her)

An experienced charity CEO, Berny holds degrees in Wildlife Conservation and Environmental Sustainable Development. She has published academically on strategies for advancing sustainable development education and lectured on Sustainable Development and Wildlife Management & Conservation. Berny has a strong operational background and is also a qualified Mindfulness & Meditation Teacher and a Forest Bathing Guide.


David A'Court (he/him)

Worked for a major bank in London and the South West until retirement. After retirement, David worked part-time as a finance officer for two environmental charities for over 12 years.  He has also held the post of Treasurer for a  health charity for over 25 years.


Luke Johnson (he/him)

Luke is a queer artist, facilitator and teacher with a love of the outdoors and a passion for sharing the benefits of nature and art with others.

Growing up as a trans kid in rural Sussex, Luke felt the positive effect of spending time outside, discovering how walking, gardening and exploring could help manage the stress and anxiety he was experiencing.

Arts and crafts also provided a way to relax and play. In his work as a facilitator, Luke helps create safe, supportive environments and encourages people to use art as a tool for experimentation and self-expression.