How can I help garden slow worms?

Finding a slow worm in the summer garden is like finding treasure, but these enchanting creatures are under threat and need as much care as you can offer.

Slow worm. Image: davemhuntphoto
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On a hot summer’s day, you may be really lucky to find a slow worm basking on a heated rock, warm patio slab or on a garden path in the sun.  Slow worms are the secret wonder of a wildlife garden and a real privilege to behold. To see these mysterious wonders is a real and rare treat, because these legless lizards are generally pretty secretive, preferring to shelter beneath piles of logs, corrugated iron sheets, under tiles and below wooden planks in a quiet spot in your garden. At first glance, slow worms resemble small, thin snakes, but they are in fact neither slow nor worm and actually legless lizards. Adults are a bit longer than an average runner bean and much thicker, more like a broad bean pod in girth. If you find them in your garden they are no threat at all. Slow worms are completely harmless; they do not bite or sting or bite. These gentle, sentient creatures are great garden bug busters, with a diet rich in insects and invertebrates including slugs and snails.

 Iridescent

Slow worms have skin that is soft and smooth and silky. Image: Jean Vernon

Slow worms are not slow, they can move pretty fast or when threatened, they freeze stock still in the hope (perhaps) that you may pass them by.  Their skin is soft and smooth and silky and there really is nothing scaly or creepy about slow worms. They are the softest coppery pink, with golden brown tints and bright, black eyes (that actually blink). Their bodies shimmer in the sunlight, with an iridescent mottled pattern, like an intricate, highly crafted piece of glazed ceramic or finely etched and patterned metal. Slow worms have the incredible capacity to shed their tails when caught by a predator. The still wriggling, separated tail tip is designed to distract the predator momentarily, allowing the lizard to escape from its grasp and escape. Amazingly slow worms can actually regrow a new tail.

Safe shelter

Wild and natural gardens are the perfect place for these beautiful creatures to breed and feed. Radiator rocks, dry stonewalls, log piles and compost heaps are a good winter and night den for these cold-blooded creatures.

Slow worms hibernate and start to emerge in March and April from their winter slumber. They mate in May and June. A slowly decomposing heap of compost provides a warm, sheltered and food rich place to raise the young. Leave it as undisturbed as possible so that these creatures can shelter safely.

The female slow worm doesn’t lay eggs, she gives birth to live, thin, wriggling offspring in late summer, which will feed on garden bugs and beasts in preparation for the winter ahead.

• Slow worms love to bask in the sunshine on gravel, stone or other surfaces that hold the heat. Image: Jean Vernon

How to help slow worms

Our gardens are a vital habitat for these shy and reserved creatures.

  • Leave piles of sticks, prunings and logs undisturbed in a quiet corner of the garden. These will gradually rot down and be a hot bed of garden bugs and beasties for the slow worms to feed upon.
  • Allow an area of your garden to grow wild to attract a wide range of beneficial insects to restore the natural balance.
  • Set up a compost heap and leave it to rot down naturally for several months, the warmth from the compost process provides the perfect nest site for slow worms and is also an insulated and protected space for overwintering.
  • Take care when turning or using your garden compost, to avoid unearthing sheltering creatures.
  • Always leave a shallow bowl of water out for wildlife and ensure any ponds and pools have a shallow edge for wildlife to enter and escape sagely.
  • Slow worms love to bask in the sunshine on gravel, stone or other surfaces that hold the heat, leave a suitable area open to the sunshine but in a quiet spot and you may well be rewarded with sunbathing slow worms.
  • Reduce and preferably stop your use of pesticides in the garden, your quest to kill garden pests potentially deprives many precious creatures of a meal and disrupts the natural balance in the garden.
Jean Vernon

About Jean Vernon

Jean Vernon is a slightly quirky, bee friendly, alternative gardener. She doesn’t follow the rules and likes to push the boundaries a bit just to see what happens. She has a fascination for odd plants, especially edibles and a keen interest in growing for pollinators especially bees. She’s rather obsessed with the little buzzers. Telegraph Gardening Correspondent, mostly testing and trialing products and Editor-In-Chief for Richard Jackson’s Garden.
@TheGreenJeanie
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