Posted 2nd May 2018 by Peter Byrne
A new project is helping one of the UK's rarest reptiles, as 21 sand lizards were given a new home at RSPB Farnham Heath in Surrey
Growing no bigger than 20cm in length, the short-legged reptiles are natives to the UK. They rely on sandy ground in sunny spots to dig their burrows for egg-laying, sheltering and sunbathing.
Females are a sandy-brown colour, with rows of dark markings along their back, while males are easier to spot, with exotic green flanks which are at their brightest during the summer. They are the only egg-laying lizards in the UK; other species give birth to live young.
They were reintroduced to Farnham Heath in 2012 in an attempt to boost the dwindling UK population. However, three years ago, an illegal camper started a fire which destroyed a significant portion of the heathland at Farnham, killing rare wildlife in the process. The damage has been slowly repaired since then, with colonies of sand lizards, field crickets and other species being brought back to safeguard their future.
In partnership with ARC, 21 sand lizards breeding on a nearby site were relocated and released on sandbanks which were created especially for them.
Mike Coates, RSPB Farnham Heath Warden, said: "With their bright, exotic appearance these reptiles would look more at home in a desert or Mediterranean island, but in fact sand lizards are native to the UK. Sadly, their numbers have plummeted in recent decades and are in desperate need of our help."
"In partnership with ARC, we are building a more resilient UK population, by boosting the numbers we have here at Farnham. Over the past six years we’ve worked to restore and create the perfect heathland habitat for these amazing creatures and we hope this will allow numbers to continue to grow in the coming years."
The heathland at RSPB Farnham Heath provides a home to a wealth of other species too, including field cricket, grass snake, Dartford warbler and ground nesting nightjars.
The UK has lost nearly 80 per cent of its heathland habitat since the turn of the 19th century.
Mike Coates added: "The creation and restoration of lowland heathland at this site will not only benefit the many species we have living here at the moment, but those that may arrive in the future with the impacts of climate change."
Ralph Connolly, Field Officer and Volunteer Coordinator for ARC said: "Habitat fragmentation - in the form of intervening roads or development can be a real barrier for wildlife so reintroductions are a great way of putting native species back on suitable sites that they would be unable to reach on their own. If you are lucky you may see the sand lizards basking on south-facing heather banks."
In the future, the RSPB is aiming to revive sand lizard colonies in several locations, which include RSPB Pulborough Brooks, maximising the chance of success for this special UK resident.