Juvenile sand lizards bred in captivity have been released on Winfrith Heath to attempt to restore the population of this rare species to a self-sustaining level. Initially 23 juveniles were released on the lowland heathland managed by Dorset Wildlife Trust, but two further releases of up to 150 sand lizards are planned to enable a thriving population to establish.  


Sand lizards are one of the species to benefit from a Species Recovery Programme Grant from Natural England to fund the recovery of rare species and habitats across Dorset. The funding is focused on reducing the risk of extinction and promoting the recovery of our most threatened species. Dorset Wildlife Trust, Natural England, Amphibian & Reptile Conservation (ARC) and their captive breeding partners have teamed up to reintroduce the sand lizard to Winfrith Heath. The heathland was affected by a serious fire and sand lizards have not been seen there since then.  


Work has been undertaken on the heath to create and manage the bare ground habitat which is essential for successful egg development and the reintroduction of the sand lizards. The juveniles have been bred at captive breeding centres managed by Marwell Wildlife, Dorset Council and Forestry England. These centres have outdoor enclosures that mimic the sand lizard's natural environment.  


In the UK, sand lizards only live on two habitats - sand-dune and lowland dry heath which are rare and threatened habitats. As much as 75% of Dorset’s heathland has been lost over the last century due to development, agricultural intensification, and afforestation. Formerly extensive blocks of heathland have been reduced to isolated fragments, providing the last remaining refuges for a variety of rare heathland species including the sand lizard. 


Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Ecologist, Steve Masters said,  

Our nature reserves are at the heart of our ambition to recover some of our rarest UK species and habitats. Thanks to the funding from Natural England, we can undertake the work needed to ensure this is the case. We have monitored the site closely for the last decade to assess the condition of the habitat, before deciding that reintroduction is the right thing to do. Sand lizards are an iconic species of our heathland ecosystems, and it is amazing to be part of their return.

ARC’s Conservation Director, Jim Foster said,

This new translocation of sand lizards to the exceptional landscape of Tadnoll and Winfrith Heaths is of vital importance. Thank you to all the organisations who have worked together to make sure that we have the highest chance of success to re-establish this important species and to restore thriving populations.

Photo credits

Banner image: Steve Masters

Staff releasing lizards: James Hitchen

Winfrith Heath: Steve Masters