A group of the UK’s rarest lizard – the sand lizard - have been released back into the wild in Dorset. Over 140 of these endangered species, bred at several locations including Marwell Zoo and Forestry England’s New Forest Reptile Centre, were released in a partnership project led by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) to return these species from near extinction.
The young sand lizards were reintroduced on Forestry England land in Dorset and follow on from a group of 200 released in the same spot last year. Despite an unfavourable spring, many lizards managed to lay two clutches of eggs and the lack of prolonged hot or wet periods over the summer helped these to remain in good condition, prior to being excavated and incubated until hatching.
Once widespread in England, sand lizards have declined considerably owing to loss of suitable habitats and are now only found in a few isolated areas of southern England and Merseyside. ARC recently carried out a country-wide survey of the species, classifying them as still highly endangered in the UK. Reintroductions in several locations across the UK are seeking to boost numbers and restore the habitats these rare animals need to thrive.
Dorset is one of the key strongholds for sand lizards with over 70% of the remaining UK population found here. Ongoing habitat restoration at Forestry England release sites in the area ensures the new populations have suitable habitat. The work includes removing dominating vegetation to open up the sandy areas needed for breeding.
In the UK sand lizards are dependent on dry, sandy lowland heathland or coastal sand dunes. Growing to around 20cms long, females can be identified by their sandy-brown colour with rows of dark and white spots called ocelli along their backs. Males have vivid green flanks which are particularly distinctive during the breeding season.