On Thursday 21st May 2015 ARC and Christchurch Borough Council Countryside staff will be joining forces to do some much needed sand creation work on St Catherine’s Hill. We need to expose patches of bare sand, currently under deep mature heather habitat, to provide female sand lizards with egg-laying substrate.

After the recent large scale fire on Town Common a number of sand lizards were relocated to this area of heath. With the breeding season underway we are in a rush to give these lizards enough suitable ground to use; lack of available egg-laying sites can be a factor that limits the size or success of a sand lizard population.

If you could spare some time (and energy!) we will be meeting up at 10 AM at the site entrance at junction of Aston Mead and Hillside Drive. SZ140956.

If you have a spare spade please bring it along but we should have quite a few between us. Full instructions will be given on the day by ARC and CBC staff.

Be sure to remember your sun hats!

Gary Powell
Senior Reserves Manager


Yet again we had a great turnout today with over 20 people giving up their morning to help scour the burnt area for stranded reptiles. Some of those attending were there for probably their fourth visit!

The dedication shown by our volunteers and members of the public continues to amaze me, and we had a good productive morning catching 11 sand lizards, 23 common lizard and four adders; all now relocated to safer habitat.

A HUGE THANK YOU to all those that attended, not just today but over any of our previous rescue missions as well; your help is massively appreciated.

Gary Powell
Senior Reserves Manager

13th April 2015

Nearly two weeks have elapsed since the huge and devastating fire on Town Common. During that time ARC staff, along with volunteers from both the local area and further afield have carried out a number of rescue missions in an attempt to save as many reptiles from the burnt area as possible. Initial rescues were ruined by the weather but since the end of the Easter period things have improved greatly. Easter Monday saw a turnout of well over 100 people who managed to collect up over 200 reptiles and relocate them to suitable habitat. Subsequent rescue operations have added to that total and we have now saved over 430 reptiles from the ruined habitat.

For the size of the burn relatively few corpses have been found; which may sound like a positive outcome but may well just indicate that many animals remain underground and still highly vulnerable to predation when they do emerge, as well as being totally exposed to the elements and with the prospect of finding enough food being difficult. For this reason the rescue attempts have been difficult as we really need to be there as and when reptiles move above ground; the nature of the burn also means that there are still many features of the site which animals can hide in, making them very difficult to catch. Unfortunately we do not have the staff and resources to be on-site every single day; but we are going to hold a final big rescue mission this Thursday 16th April, meeting as always at the water towers on top of St Catherines Hill at 09.30 – 12.00. I will be there to meet everyone and then we will sweep through the fire site on the lookout for any reptile movement. If you have spare buckets please bring them along; however our main requirement is keen eyes and enthusiasm, two things we have seen a lot of over the last few weeks.

The extent of the fire is probably between 75-80 hectares. Reports are that it was started in three places at once and a number of people are being questioned.

Heathland of course will eventually recover, as it has many times from fires such as this. That doesn’t alter the fact that the habitat has been devastated and that the species relying on it have suffered huge losses. Throughout the whole rescue operation we have seen very few smooth snakes and slow worms, both present on the site in large numbers: these animals remain within the burnt area and are extremely vulnerable. More animals will die on Town Common, no matter how much searching we do.

ARC would like to say a very big thank you to all those who have helped us out, the response we have had from the public has been very heartening and we are truly grateful.

If you do have any spare time this Thursday please join us for yet another big push to save the reptiles of Town Common.

Gary Powell
Senior Reserves Manager

2nd April 2015

Two days after the large fire on Town Common we are left in a difficult situation. With the weather conditions still unfavourable for reptile activity we find our rescue attempts thwarted at present. Yesterday we were joined by a good number of volunteers, local residents and representatives of other conservation organisations, who joined us in our rescue mission. Our thanks go out to all those who gave up their time, your efforts are much appreciated.

We managed to catch and relocate c 125 reptiles, mainly common lizards, but including specimens of all the other UK reptiles as well. Due to the cold and windy conditions there was little above ground reptile activity; this leaves us waiting for some sun to bring them out before we can really start to escalate the search and rescue operation. We will be monitoring conditions and activity at the site very closely; when the time is right we will then be putting out a request for further help. Based on current forecasts we anticipate this being on Sunday.

The latest information we have regarding the fire itself, as reported widely in the press, is that it was started from three separate locations, and that the area covered was approaching 80 hectares. This is obviously devastating for the wildlife and habitat but also seriously impacts the many site users who enjoy the area. Large-scale, fast moving fires such as this also pose a threat to property and life.

For updates on the reptile rescue operation see our Facebook page.

1st April 2015

On the afternoon of Tuesday 31st of March pagers alerted the field team to a massive fire on St Catherine’s Hill Nature Reserve in Christchurch, Dorset.

Our Field Officers and Reserves Manager Gary Powell quickly made their way over to the SSSI site, managed by ARC, to find fire fighters from Dorset and Hampshire crews tackling a huge and unpredictable fire and devastating scenes. Police were also on the scene to help keep local residents and visitors to the site away from danger.

Very windy conditions only helped to fuel the flames reaching up to 35ft high and covering an area of what we estimate to be around 100 hectares. At one point the fire front was 400 metres wide and moving at very fast speeds. This later grew to 800 metres x 800 metres! There were around 80 fire fighters trying to bring the blaze under control for a number of hours and Dorset Fire & Rescue Service (DFRS) worked at the scene throughout much of the night to monitor the situation. Police have stated this morning that the blaze is suspected to have been started deliberately.

We suspect that most reptiles were inactive due to the windy conditions yesterday as there was very little seen in the way of dead animals, but this doesn’t mean that there aren’t lots out of sight.

A coordinated inspection and rescue is taking place this morning with all Dorset field staff as well as Christchurch Borough Council and East Dorset District Council staff, ARC, Dorset Wildlife Trust and Dorset Amphibian and Reptile Network volunteers and local ecologists. The rescue will be made difficult with windy conditions prevailing but when the wind does drop the reptiles will be out and very vulnerable to predation.

We will update when we have more information.