They are, in fact, legless lizards that can shed their tails and blink with their eyelids, just like other lizards. They are smaller than snakes — around 30cm long — with a shiny, smooth grey skin, and they can live for up to 20 years!
Slow-worms are the most common reptiles to be found in London, and can be found in nature-reserves in south-east London (including along our railway line) where they seek out invertebrates to eat.
They spend the winter hibernating in underground tunnels and log-piles until they emerge in March. Like other lizards, they give birth to live young. They like curling up in compost heaps and in warm spaces under corrugated metal, but if you find them they will wriggle away quickly. Cats will catch slow-worms and kill them, so be aware if you have a cat!
Slow-worms are a protected species; if you find any in your garden Lewisham Biodiversity Partnership would be happy to know. When waste ground comes up for redevelopment, it is important to establish whether slow-worms live there in order to ensure they are protected and new homes found for them.
You can help slow-worms by leaving log piles in underused areas of your garden for them to hibernate in through the winter.
Article by Alona Sheridan, Executive Committee
Photo by Grace Barrett of a slow-worm spotted in SE23