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Page last updated at 12:14 GMT, Monday, 12 October 2009 13:14 UK
Sand lizards on Lulworth Estate
Sue Hendey, BBC Dorset
By Sue Paz
BBC Dorset

Adult female (brown) and adult male (green) sand lizards. Copyright of Fred Holmes
The sand lizard is the UK's largest and rarest lizard.

An important wildlife "rescue operation" has taken place on the Lulworth Estate in Dorset.

Sixty-five rare sand lizards have been released into the estate's ecosystem.

It is part of a 133-point action plan to save the UK's threatened reptiles and amphibians, which includes frogs, toads, newts, snakes and lizards.

Almost 400 of the UK's most endangered lizards have been prepared for release into the wild, across England and Wales.

The sand lizard, lacerta agilis, is the UK's largest and rarest lizard.

But massive losses of heathland and sand dunes in the 20th Century has led to widespread extinction.

Conservationists estimate that more than 90% of suitable habitat for sand lizards in Dorset has now disappeared.

Lulworth in "perfect condition"

Amphibian and reptile statistics
Of the UK's 13 species of amphibians and reptiles, ten species are listed on the Government's Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) 'Watchlist'.
Of Europe's 85 species of amphibian, 23% of them now feature on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species. Source: IUCN
Of Europe's 151 reptile species, 22% are on the Red List. Source: IUCN
Globally, one third of amphibians are threatened with extinction and half of all species are in decline. Source: IUCN

Coordinated releases, around the UK, will see sand lizards return to their former habitats, now that both are protected under wildlife law.

The two-inch long baby sand lizards, released at Lulworth, come from a number of locations including Chester Zoo, in Cheshire, Marwell Zoo, in Hampshire, and even a number of specially modified back gardens.

The action plan for saving amphibians and reptiles has been put together by a partnership involving government bodies - the Countryside Council for Wales, Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage - and Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC).

Nick Moulton from ARC, the wildlife organisation coordinating the lizard releases, said: "The Lulworth Estate site is in perfect overall condition for all heathland plants and animals to live and breed naturally.

"The Lulworth Estate, Dorset Wildlife Trust, Natural England and Arc were able to agree to the re-introduction of the sand lizards to this area as these species could not naturally re-colonise the site.

"It's great to see them back and safely protected, where they belong.

Release "welcomed"

Captive bred, juvenille sand lizards. Copyright of Fred Holmes
Lulworth Estate has "perfect conditions" for sand lizards

The plan includes monitoring the distribution of species, enhancing volunteer networks, undertaking research, and giving advice on creating nature reserves where amphibians and reptiles thrive.

Some of the work is well under way, while other initiatives will take many years and additional funding to come to fruition.

Dr Tony Gent, the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation's joint chief executive said: "These sand lizard releases are just one part of our 133 actions, which in partnership, will help us turn back the clock on amphibian and reptile declines."

Together, it is hoped the actions will help achieve the goals of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, a major initiative aiming to get everyone working together for threatened wildlife.

James Weld, general manager of the Lulworth Estate, said: "We are extremely fortunate the estate has the perfect conditions to which this rare sand lizard can survive and breed and we welcome their release into our ecosystem.

"As a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and part of the World Heritage Jurassic Coast, the Lulworth Estate has a naturally abundant and diverse range of flora and fauna, which is managed in an environmentally sensitive way by our countryside rangers, who are based at the Heritage Centre at Lulworth Cove."

The sand lizard release at Lulworth Estate will feature on The One Show tonight (Monday 12 October) at 1900.

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