It will be a happy new year for reptiles at Hankley Common near Elstead in Surrey.

From January 2019 an additional 110 hectares of this important heathland site will be managed by ARC for the benefit of rare species such as sand lizards and smooth snakes.

Hankley has been a military training area since before the First World War but it is also an exceptional place for wildlife with multiple designations including SSSI, SPA and SAC.  It is home to all of the UK’s native reptiles.

ARC will work in partnership with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to achieve the best results for wildlife. 

ARC and its forerunners have been involved at Hankley since the late 1960s when smooth snakes were reintroduced.

A formal management licence was granted in 1974 over 69 hectares of lowland heath covering many of the best areas for smooth snakes and sand lizards. 

The Hankley sand lizards are of particular significance as they formed one of just four remaining native Weald race sand lizard populations during the 1970s low-point for the species in the UK. 

Captive breeding by ARC from animals originally captured under licence at Hankley has helped turn this situation around.  Today sand lizards can be found on over 30 sites in the Weald of Surrey, Hampshire, West Sussex and Kent.

Edward Free, 3rd Surrey Dragoon Guards, c.1914.
Rob's grandfather Edward Free,
3rd Surrey Dragoon Guards, c.1914 at Hankley Common

Rob Free, ARC’s Weald Reserves Manager, said: “ARC was thrilled to be offered earlier this year the entire area of open heath at Hankley to manage on behalf of the MoD. 

“Some 181 hectares of the Common will be handed over in January with the remaining 130 due later in 2019.  In total ARC will be managing a reserve four and half times its current size.

“The heathland has been entered into a Countryside Stewardship grant scheme which will help fund some of the 109 or so hectares of scrub clearance that is required in order to maintain the open habitat needed by amphibians and reptiles and other rare wildlife.”

Hankley is close to ARC’s Weald Office.  The Weald field team and volunteers will start a programme of work in the coming months.  Volunteers for the regular Tuesday ‘scrub bash’ are always welcome. 

Hankley is an important site for amphibians and reptiles with recent records of 11 of the 13 native species.  Natterjack toads have sadly not been recorded sine 1969.  It is also a great spot for birding with good numbers of Dartford warblers and nightjars, for rare plants such as marsh clubmoss and mossy stonecrop, and for rare invertebrates such as silver studded blue butterflies and purseweb spiders. 

Visitors to Hankley should be aware that it is often used for troop exercises and be prepared to follow direction by military personnel.  There are permissive, free car parking areas at the main entrances to the site.