Sand lizards bred at New Forest Reptile Centre, Marwell Zoo and Avon Heath Country Park reintroduced to Dorset sites
BRITAIN’S rarest lizards have been released into heathland habitats across Dorset as part of a partnership breeding programme aimed at bringing them back from the brink of extinction.
The sand lizards, bred at Forestry England’s New Forest Reptile Centre, Marwell Zoo and Avon Heath Country Park near Ringwood, were recently released as part of a joint initiative led by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC).
The juvenile lizards were freed in the same spots as 200 that were re-introduced last year. Despite an unfavourable spring, many of last year’s cohort managed to lay two clutches of eggs, which were excavated and incubated until hatching.
Once widespread in England, sand lizards are now highly endangered and only found in a few isolated areas of southern England and Merseyside – with 70% of the total UK population found in Dorset. Reintroduction programmes are also being boosted by efforts to restore the sandy habitats they need to thrive, with Forestry England (FE) leading work to remove vegetation.
The creatures, which can grow to 20cm long, are a sandy-brown colour, with females exhibiting rows of dark and white spots along their backs and males identifiable by their vivid green flanks.
FE wildlife ranger Mark Warn said: “Dorset’s heathlands and forests are home to some of the UK’s rarest wildlife, and we work hard to ensure they have the right habitats to thrive here. Projects like this require commitment over the long term, and whilst there is still much more work to be done it’s really encouraging to see the positive progress being made by the sand lizards released over the last few years.”
Nick Moulton, reptile conservation officer for ARC, said: “We are delighted to be able to release an encouragingly high number of sand lizards again this year. Conservation projects like this rely on the hard work and support of multiple agencies.”
Marwell Wildlife ecologist Rachel Gardner said: “Our conservation breeding population of sand lizards has had another exceptional year. This is Marwell’s 33rd year of involvement with the sand lizard reintroduction project, and prior to this we have contributed over 2,200 lizards to releases in the south of England.”