Keeping Tortoises Outdoors in the UK

Keeping Tortoises Outdoors in the UK

Living in the UK, you have to deal with the colder weather, and with tortoises being cold-blooded reptiles, the mix of cold weather isn’t always the best. There are still great debates on whether you should keep your tortoise outside in the UK.

When the weather permits, the best place to keep your tortoise is outside, where they are exposed to fresh air, natural UV from the sun, and plenty of space. Tortoises will need somewhere warm and try to shelter from any rain, but tortoises will happily live outside in the UK during the summer months. 

Looking after tortoises in the UK is no different from many other places in the world. However, keeping your tortoises outside in the UK comes with a few problems you need to overcome. There are also some myths that I look to dispel, and I take a look at some of the issues you may face and how best to overcome them. 

Keep Juvenile Tortoises Indoors

Some will totally disagree with me on this one, but baby tortoises are not good at maintaining their body temperature as an adult tortoise. So for me, it seems more sensible to keep baby tortoises inside in the UK for the first couple of years. Their indoor enclosure will be a much better home where the temperature will be perfect. 

The counterargument to this is fresh air, and the sun’s UV is much better for a tortoise. I totally agree, but we are talking about the UK here, not France’s south coast. 

A south-facing garden may be better at housing a juvenile tortoise in the UK as they tend to get more sun; however, the more north you venture, the colder the temperature can drop. 

Even with the perfect garden in the UK, I would be hesitant to leave my juvenile tortoise outside full time. Best practice would have a permanent indoor enclosure and allow your tortoise outside as much as possible when the weather is warm. 

Security for Hatchling Tortoises Kept Outside

Allowing your tortoise as much outside play is excellent for the fresh air and sun’s UV but don’t get mistaken by the slow-moving, cumbersome nature. Tortoises are incredible escape artists, and baby tortoises can fit through small gaps. 

A secured pen is the best option that doesn’t allow your tortoise to escape over the walls or under. Adding a hide to shade from the sun and a water dish for drinks are a must. 

If you decide your juvenile tortoise will stay outside full time, you will need to cover the enclosure with mesh wire. A baby tortoise will be an easy meal to a passing fox, even birds.

Just because your tortoise is munching on a little extra grass, that doesn’t mean their feed should stop. Keep supplying their regular feed, so they get the correct amount of food. 

When Can Tortoises Go Outside?

Tortoises thrive when outside in the open air and getting their UV directly from the sunlight. A tortoise requires the UV to help them grow and supports their metabolic development. We offer our tortoises UV when indoors with bulbs, but there is no better UV source than the sun.

Offering your baby tortoises outside time when you can keep them safe, and their temperature stable is highly recommended. 

Getting your tortoises outside whenever the weather permits in the UK is going to be best for your tortoise. 

What Temperature Can I Put My Tortoise Outside?

Tortoises can go outside when the temperature reaches 20-30 degrees Celsius in the UK. It will be around July when your tortoises can go outside. Monitor the weather and any cold snaps you will need to bring your tortoise indoors.  

Truth be told, it is not often we see these temperatures here in the UK. So temperatures must be warm and not cold and windy. We also need to be careful of damp conditions as this can cause shell rot. 

Older Wiser Tortoises Outside 

Older tortoises are a little wiser than the juvenile counterparts; they have learned over the years how to deal with different situations.

I still believe that outside living should only happen in the UK when the weather permits; however, I am a lot less concerned when I see rain with older tortoises. I know they will quickly scurry off to their hide to shelter. In contrast, I have seen baby tortoises wandering around the garden in the rain. 

Is Your Tortoise Too Hot Outside?

Maybe something we may not have thought about being in the UK as we generally believe the cold is the main problem, but it can sometimes get too hot. 

If the weather in the UK reaches 30 degrees celsius, it can be too hot for tortoises. You will need to provide your tortoise with a hide that allows them to burrow into the soil to regulate their body temperature. 

Here are some tips on keeping your tortoise cool on hot days:

  • Non-toxic plants that provide shade and hiding places.
  • Loosen an area of the earth to make burrowing easy.
  • A hide in the shade. Painting the tortoise hide white will help keep it cooler.
  • Bathing your tortoise on hot days can also help cool their body temperature.
  • A constant supply of fresh drink water for the tortoise to bath and drink.

What Are the Best Tortoise Species to Live Outside in the UK?

All tortoises will enjoy outdoor time in the UK; however, some species will require more inside time than others.

The best tortoise species to live outside in the UK are Herman tortoises and Russian tortoises. Both species are hardier to the UK weather and will tolerate it better than many other species. With this said, you still need to make sure the temperatures don’t drop too low otherwise, they can become ill. 

No matter what species you decide you can successfully keep in the UK, you just need to be aware of their critical temperature conditions. Many will be left with the choice between Hermann’s Tortoise vs. Russian Tortoise after researching their needs.

Overwintering: Which Tortoises Should Be Brought Inside for Winter?

Some tortoises will just not handle the UK winter weather. Many tortoises come from tropical places which rarely get cold, and they generally don’t hibernate. These species are not likely to survive the UK winters, or if they do come through, they won’t be in the best of health. 

Here are some tortoises that you will need to bring inside and offer them artificial heat and UV over the winter months:

  • Red Footed Tortoise
  • Cherry Head Tortoise
  • Indian Star Tortoise
  • Leopard Tortoise

Which Tortoise Breeds Can Be Left Outside All Year (in Theory)

Keeping your tortoise outside throughout the winter comes with many pitfalls, and you should only ever do it with fit and healthy tortoises. 

Mediterranean tortoises are the best fit for people looking to keep their tortoises outside for the whole year.

Tortoises that people have successfully left outside all year round:

  • Hermanns 
  • Spur Thighs 
  • Russian Tortoises

Although people have had success keeping these species outside all year round, I would highly recommend bringing them indoors for the harsh UK winter. Hibernating your tortoise in more controlled conditions would be the best option. 

Correct Set up for a Tortoise Living Outdoors

Getting the setup for your tortoise outside, especially in the UK, is super important in keeping your tortoise happy and healthy. With some essential tips, you will be better able to house your tortoise outside, even in the UK.

Your Tortoise’s Outdoor Enclosure

Your tortoise’s outdoor enclosure is critical to their survival outside. It is not only their home, but it is the thing that is going to keep them safe from predators. We need to provide everything we do indoors, a hide, water dish, and shaded areas.

The enclosure should be secure as tortoises are excellent climbers and also excellent burrows. Tortoises are most active and at their most adventures when the weather is warm. You will need high walls that are buried so your tortoise can’t burrow under. 

The walls will need to be substantial as larger tortoises will try to bulldoze them down if they believe they could get through. People often use old railway sleepers to create a walled enclosure. 

Keep Predators Out

Smaller tortoises will need more protection from predators than larger tortoises despite them still running a risk of attack. A wire meshing over the enclosure will help keep your tortoises safer. Birds will try and swipe baby tortoises, so the wire meshing is a must for baby tortoises. 

Foxes are larger tortoises nemesis, and while a fox may not kill your tortoise, it can drag it away from your garden. It will most likely be injured, and it would be nearly impossible to find. 

Making your garden fox-proof is challenging; however, making their nighttime accommodation would be better. A fox is more likely to strike at night, so secure their nighttime hide, and this should keep your tortoise safe from foxes.

Keeping the Moisture Out

If you plan on making your outdoor enclosure or buying one, you need to make sure it is entirely watertight to the rainy weather the UK offers us. 

A little moisture will cause your tortoise no problems; however, we all know how wet UK summers can be at times. If your tortoises can’t escape the wet ground and are soaked continuously, it will cause shell rot that can cause death in tortoises. 

Shell rot is where your tortoise cannot dry for an extended period completely; the shell will start to rot away. As the shell is an integral part of your tortoise, it can cause death. 

Having your tortoise’s enclosure elevated above the ground will help keep it dry and ever becoming waterlogged. Never put their hide that they sleep in on grass; this will become damp in the UK and will be disastrous for your tortoise.

Take Advantage of The Space

Whether you are having your tortoise, live outdoors throughout the summer, or just part-time. Take advantage of the space that your garden offers you. 

A tortoise that spends lots of time outside will generally be much happier and healthy. With the more significant space, you will be much better able to replicate the tortoise’s wild living. 

Is Heat and UV Lighting Needed Outside?

Despite the UK weather, if your garden is sunny and warm, you should not need to offer extra tortoise heat or UV lighting. 

If your tortoise needs additional heat, I would recommend bringing them indoors rather than rigging an outdoor heat source. It will be much safer and much easier to regulate their temperature probably. 

I have seen people rig a heat lamp up outside on a timer to come on for a little during the morning. Allowing the tortoise to get moving, however, I don’t know how you can safely make this happen and will need to speak to an electrician. 

Do I Need a Tortoise Run?

There are misconceptions when it comes to tortoises that they don’t need much space because they are slow-moving. While tortoises don’t need a vast amount of space, the bigger the area you can offer them to explore will be more beneficial to their physical and mental health. 

If you can fully secure your garden, then you will need a tortoise run. However, you want to make it as big as possible and place objects inside like rocks and hides to stimulate your tortoise’s playful side. 

How Can I Tortoise Proof My Garden?

Tortoise proofing a garden involves securing all perimeter fencing so your tortoise can’t escape. 

Start by checking for gaps in your fencing and fix them. Once you believe there are no gaps to get through, it’s underground that our attention turns towards.

Tortoises are excellent burrows; any loose soil will make your tortoise’s task of burrowing much easier. Covering the edges of your borders with gravel is a perfect way of deterring burrowing.

Keep a close eye on your tortoise within the garden for the first few weeks; they are going to seek out escape routes quickly. 

If you have a garden that is simply too big to secure the perimeter fully, then you will need a tortoises run.