Bid to restore sand lizard numbers
Hundreds of captive-bred sand lizards are being released into the wild as part of a long-term project to help the UK’s rarest lizard.
Conservationists will release around 400 sand lizards at seven sites in England and Wales this week as they try to restore the species and its historic range.
Sand lizards live only on sand dunes and lowland dry heath, and have vanished from much of England and Wales in the face of loss and fragmentation of their habitat due to development and changes to how land is used.
The species has been lost from north and west Wales, Cheshire, Kent, Sussex, Berkshire, Hampshire, Devon and Cornwall, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) said.
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Native populations only remain in Dorset , Surrey and Merseyside and even in those areas they have experienced losses of between 90% and 97%.
Under the programme by ARC, Natural Resources Wales and Natural England, lizards bred in captive breeding centres, in enclosures that mimic their natural environment, will be released at specially prepared nature reserves in Merseyside, Wales, Surrey, Hampshire and Dorset.
The juveniles are being released in early September to allow the lizards to get used to their new home before hibernation in October.
Jonathan Webster, ARC chairman of trustees, said: “We are delighted with the success of the sand lizard reintroduction programme.”
He said the scheme had instigated 74 reintroductions in 12 areas and had restored the species to seven of them, adding that 80% of these “have been successful or going well and more are planned for the future”.
Specialist keeper Isolde McGeorge of Chester Zoo, one of the captive breeding centres, said: “It’s habitat loss that has led to dwindling numbers of these important species and to see them back where they belong is very rewarding.
“The release of the lizards is the culmination of a lot of hard work and very successful breeding and reintroduction programmes, and we hope eventually they will begin to colonise new areas themselves.
“It’s a big step forward for this great native species.”