Amphibian & Reptile Conservation (ARC), Natural Resources Wales and Natural England have formed a partnership to run an important rescue programme to safeguard the future of the sand lizard (Lacerta agilis). One of Britain’s rarest reptiles, sand lizards are only found in two habitats: sand-dune and lowland dry heath; both of which have declined in area in the UK over the past 100 years, due to development and land use changes. As a result of this large-scale habitat loss and fragmentation, sand lizards have been lost from large parts of their former range including: North and West Wales, Cheshire, Kent, Sussex, Berkshire, Hampshire, Devon and Cornwall; and native populations now only remain in Merseyside, Surrey, and Dorset. Even here, losses of 97%, 95% and 90% have occurred respectively.

The strategy for sand lizard recovery has three main aims: to protect existing sites, to manage these sites for sand lizards and, to reintroduce sand lizards to well-managed and suitable sites in their former historic range.

Currently there are ten captive breeding centres for sand lizards including: Chester Zoo, Marwell Wildlife, The New Forest Reptile Centre and Avon Heath Country Park. These centres have special outdoor enclosures or ‘vivaria’ that mimic the sand lizard's natural environment. From here, the captive bred juveniles are released onto suitable reintroduction sites in early September to allow the animals to gradually get used to their new surroundings before hibernation in October.

Marwell Wildlife has played a key role in fulfilling the partnership's captive breeding and re-introduction program for sand lizards in UK. They have been our partners since 1989 and continue to play an important role in helping with captive breeding, re-introduction and research into improving husbandry practice. They have also helped support two post graduate doctorate students, to find out more about pre-release husbandry and post-release monitoring. This has proven vital to the captive breeding and re-introduction program, and has played a significant role in the continued success of sand lizard conservation.

We are delighted to be able to report that the findings of this important programme, which has been running for 28 years, have now been published. The citation and abstract are below, should you wish to find out more:

Woodfine, T., Wilkie, M., Gardner, R., Edgar, P., Moulton, N. and Riordan, P. (2017), Outcomes and lessons from a quarter of a century of Sand lizard Lacerta agilis reintroductions in southern England. Int. Zoo Yb.. doi:10.1111/izy.12155

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Despite occurring widely across Europe and Asia, the Sand lizard Lacerta agilis is threatened in the northwestern part of its range and had disappeared from much of its former habitat in England and Wales prior to concerted conservation action. A breeding population established at Marwell Zoo, UK, contributed to the re-establishment of 26 populations of Sand lizards at heathland and coastal dune sites across southern England as part of a wider multi-stakeholder response to reverse the decline of the species. Knowledge about the biology of Sand lizards was accrued during the process, which helped to refine the management of the breeding population that was maintained in a naturalistic setting within the indigenous range of the species. These successes were underpinned by coordinated collaborative actions and long-term institutional commitments against a backdrop of considerable change in the statutory framework governing Sand lizard conservation. The management of this project was not without cost or risk, including protection of valuable founder stock, incomplete knowledge about the health and disease status of Sand lizards, intrinsic constraints of limited founder representation, and the challenges of monitoring this elusive species post release.

Key-words: adaptation; breeding; heathland; reintroduction; sand lizard; species conservation.