The key to saving populations of Britain's threatened reptiles and amphibians is habitat conservation. For rare reptiles, this means a focus on one particular habitat type - lowland dry heathland.

Mature open heathland provides exactly the right mix of warmth, cover and abundant food supply as well as the dry conditions for hibernation that these animals need. Heathland is vitally important for the sand lizard and the smooth snake and it also supports important populations of other reptile species. In the UK, the most important remaining heaths for smooth snakes and sand lizards are in Dorset, Surrey, Hampshire and West Sussex.

The enigmatic landscape of lowland dry heath is, on a global scale, more rare than tropical rainforest. In the last 250 years over 85% of our heaths have been lost to forestry, roads, farming, building and mineral extraction, and much of what remains is often small, fragmented and isolated and has become less valuable as good reptile habitat through neglect, inappropriate management and the devastating effect of fires. As human populations near heathland increase, the habitat comes under increased recreational pressure - a place to ride horses or mountain bikes, or simply a place to walk. With more people comes the added risk of fire.

Heathland, because of its open sunny aspect and sandy soil is a particularly warm habitat and as such hosts a variety or rare animals, birds, plants, insects and spiders, many of them on the northern edge of their range, as well as reptiles. As a result, the acquisition and management of heathland nature reserves is high on Amphibian and Reptile Conservation's agenda.