Page last updated at 23:12 GMT, Wednesday, 2 September 2009 00:12 UK

Hundreds of sand lizards released


Sand lizards released to boost numbers

Hundreds of rare sand lizards are being released into the wild at locations in England and Wales from where they had previously disappeared.

They will be reintroduced at five sites in Surrey, Dorset and mid-Wales.

The sand lizard was once a common sight across heathland, but the gradual destruction of its habitats has led to its extinction in many places.

Some 400 of the creatures would be set free within a fortnight, the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation group said.

The first release of about 80 two-inch-long baby lizards, reared in special hatcheries, will take place at a National Trust nature reserve in Surrey on Thursday.

Reptiles and amphibians are coming under pressure from an increasing number of factors including habitat loss, disease and a future of climate change
Dr Tom Tew, Natural England

According to the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation group (Arc), the lizard was lost altogether from a number of counties including Kent, Sussex, Cornwall, Cheshire and north and west Wales.

More than 90% of suitable habitat has also vanished from Surrey, Merseyside and Dorset.

Frogs, toads, newts, lizards and snakes have all been affected by the loss of their habitats, often because of changes to agricultural practice, the planting of forests and building developments.

But Arc, formed by the merger of Froglife and the Herpetological Conservation Trust charities, said the animals and their habitats were now protected by law.

Nick Moulton, of Arc, said: "It's great to see them going back, now safely protected, where they belong."

The reintroductions were part of efforts to "turn back the clock on amphibian and reptile declines" in Britain, a statement from Arc added.

'Reverse the decline'

The young lizards were bred in captivity at locations that include the zoos at Chester and Marwell, and also specially modified back gardens.

The breeders minimised contact with the reptiles to prevent them becoming too tame, which would leave them at risk of being eaten in the wild by their main predator, the smooth snake.

The reintroduction of the sand lizards is part of a 133-point action plan, intended to reverse the decline of the UK's frogs, toads, lizards and snakes.

The plan includes research, monitoring species and encouraging land-owners to create habitats such as ponds to help wildlife flourish.

Dr Tom Tew, chief scientist at Natural England, the government's conservation agency, said: "Reptiles and amphibians are coming under pressure from an increasing number of factors including habitat loss, disease and a future of climate change.

"This important reintroduction programme is an example of the action that must be taken to reverse the decline in England's biodiversity and to conserve the habitats that our unique wildlife relies upon."

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