Over the last three years conservationists have been giving the UK's rarest lizard a helping hand. Captive bred sand lizards have been released on to the Fylde Sand Dunes as part of a long-term conservation project to restore the species’ status and historic range within the UK.

Amphibian & Reptile Conservation (ARC), Fylde and Blackpool Councils, Fylde and North Merseyside Amphibian and Reptile Groups (ARGs), Lancashire Wildlife Trust and Natural England have teamed up to safeguard the future of these magnificent lizards.

Lancashire Wildlife Trust, Fylde and Blackpool Council and the Environment Agency have been working in Partnership since 2013 on the Starr Hill Sand dunes Environmental Works. This project received approval from the Environment Agency for a grant in aid funding to undertake dune management work in line with the sand dunes management plan and as described in the Fylde Coast protection strategy for the policy of hold line. The plan includes dune accretion, habitat improvement and monitoring.

The additional benefits of this project (in addition to coast protection) are that habitat is protected and created and this has led to the sand lizards being able to be reintroduced.  

In the UK, sand lizards only live on two rare habitats; sand-dune and lowland dry heath. Due to vast historic losses, and fragmentation of these habitats via development and land use change, the species has been lost from north and west Wales, Cheshire, Kent, Sussex, Berkshire, Hampshire, Devon and Cornwall. Native populations now only remain in Merseyside, Surrey, and Dorset -though even here, losses of 97%, 95% and 90% have occurred respectively.

Due to these losses, the sand lizard is part of ARC’s Biodiversity Action Plan. This has three main aims - protect the sites as nature reserves where the species occurs, to manage these sites to maintain and restore suitable conditions for sand lizards and to re-introduce sand lizards to managed sites in their former historic range.

Currently there are two captive breeding centres for the Sefton sand lizards managed by Ray Lynch and Paul Hudson (Fylde and North Merseyside ARGs). These centres have outdoor enclosures that mimic the sand lizard's natural dune environment. The captive bred juveniles have been released on to the Fylde Sand Dunes in early September each year to allow the animals to gradually get used to their new home before they hibernate in October.

Geoff Willetts, Senior Coast and Conservation Officer (Fylde Council)

‘Fylde Council are proud to be part of such a fantastic project and are privileged to witness the sand lizards re introduction to our beautiful sand dunes here on the Fylde Coast.’

Andrew Mills, Sand dunes Area Conservation Ranger (Fylde Council)

‘Over the last three years the team have released over 300 sand lizards on to the Fylde dunes. It has been a great project to be involved in and we have already had a success story with hatched eggs found in September 2019 proving that the conditions here can support a healthy population of sand lizards. Sand lizards are such amazing animals and it’s such a shame that their range has reduced due to habitat loss and fragmentation, hopefully projects such as this one on the Fylde dunes and across the UK can help boost their population. It’s been great to work with Paul and Ray who have done a fantastic job rearing the animals and passing their knowledge on to the rest of the team. It is an exciting time on the dunes, and I am looking forward to watching how the population develops.’

Alan Wright, Campaigns Manager (Lancashire Wildlife Trust)

‘This is an example of how wildlife benefits from organisations working together and sharing expertise. The fact that sand lizards will be more abundant on such a busy area as the Fylde dunes is wonderful news and can only be good for local nature in general. What a brilliant project!’

Paul Hudson and Ray Lynch, Fylde Amphibian and Reptile Group

‘We have been part of the nationwide sand lizard breeding program for the last 8 years and along with other partners, we have been able to re-establish breeding colonies of the Merseyside race of SL at various sites in west Wales. We are now in our third year at our Fylde Coast dune system and it is great that we have witnessed breeding success at what is now the most northerly site in England.’

Ginny Hinton, Natural England Area Manager

‘This is a wonderful example of nature recovery in action. It’s great to have this iconic species back in Lancashire.’

Jonathan Webster, ARC Chair of Trustees

‘We are delighted with the success of the sand lizard re-introduction programme. So far the partnerships have instigated 76 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.’

We have high hopes for this re-introduction as the site is naturally suitable for the species and well managed by the Fylde Sand Dune Project partners. Ongoing surveys by trained site staff, volunteers and Amphibian & Reptile Groups of the UK will let us know how the species is doing in the long term, and when they start to colonise new areas.

Cllr Jim Hobson, Blackpool Council’s Cabinet Member responsible for the Environment and Climate Change

‘It’s been a pleasure for Blackpool Council to be involved in this project. We are so proud to have worked in conjunction with such fantastic partners to protect the status of this wonderful species.’ 

If you would like to find out more about project or can help with surveying and conservation work on the Fylde Sand Dunes visit the project website.