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Sand lizards return to lounge at Farnham Heath

Today conservation groups came together to Give Nature a Home, reintroducing sand lizards to RSPB Farnham Heath nature reserve.

Following on from an initial reintroduction in 2012, and as part of a three year project between the RSPB, Amphibian & Reptile Conservation (ARC) and Natural England, sand lizards will once again be released onto Surrey heathland this week.

This will be the second of three annual releases of local captive bred lizards. Juveniles are released in early September to allow the animals to gradually get used to the site before hibernation in October. On average c.50 captive-bred juveniles are released each year which is sufficient to establish a structured population.

Mike Coates, the RSPB site manager for Farnham Heath said: “Sand lizards are one of the iconic heathland species. This re-introduction programme will put them back where they belong, here on the reserve– this work really sums up our ‘Giving Nature a Home’ campaign in action”.

Due to vast habitat losses across the UK, sand lizards now only occur naturally in Surrey and Dorset where it lives on sandy heathland, and further north in Merseyside where it is confined to coastal sand dune systems.

Sand lizards are believed to have been lost from the Farnham Heath site when the land was planted up with a commercial conifer crop after the Second World War.

Since 2004 the RSPB has restored over 70 ha of heathland at Farnham Heath and management of the site, such as using livestock for grazing and creating sunny open areas, is benefitting a range of wildlife.

Field crickets were heard singing on the reserve over the summer, the result of another successful reintroduction programme. And rare heathland birds such as woodlarks, tree pipits and nightjars are also returning thanks to the work being carried out.

As part of the wider project c.400 captive bred sand lizards will be released at 7 sites in England and Wales.

Jonathan Webster, ARC Chair of Trustees said "We are delighted with the success of the sand lizard re-introduction programme. So far the partnerships have instigated 74 re-introductions to both dune and heathland sites in 12 vice-counties and restored the species to 7 of these. 80% of these have been successful or going well and more are planned for the future."

Ongoing surveys by trained site staff, volunteers and Amphibian & Reptile Groups of the UK will help to monitor and assess how the species is doing in the long term and identify when they start to colonise new areas.

Sand lizards are active from late March through to late October; with the males emerge from hibernation first followed by younger animals then females.

Mike Coates added: “During the breeding season the male's sides turn almost completely bright green. They are spectacular animals, like living jewels down amongst the heather.

They should thrive here at Farnham Heath, and we hope that in a couple of years visitors might be able to glimpse these wonderful creatures basking beside the paths.”


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