One of the UK’s rarest and most threatened reptiles has been given a boost with the introduction of 21 young sand lizards to the RSPB’s Farnham Heath reserve in Surrey.

The species is currently limited to just a few colonies due mostly to habitat loss and fragmentation.

Native to the UK, the short-legged reptile grows no bigger than 20cm in length and needs sandy ground in sunny spots to dig burrows for egg-laying, shelter and sunbathing. Females are a sandy-brown colour with rows of dark markings along the back, but males have exotic green flanks which are at their brightest during the summer, making them easy to spot. They are the UK’s only egg-laying lizards; other species give birth to live young.

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Sand lizards were first reintroduced to Farnham Heath in 2012 in an attempt to boost the dwindling UK population. However, three years ago a fire started by an illegal camper destroyed a good portion of the restored heathland at Farnham, killing some of its rare wildlife. Since then the damage has slowly been repaired and colonies of sand lizards, field crickets and other species are being brought back to safeguard their future as a UK species.

In partnership with ARC, 21 sand lizards bred on a nearby site were relocated and released on sandbanks created especially for them.

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Mike Coates, RSPB Farnham Heath Warden, said: “With their bright, exotic appearance these reptiles would look more at home in a desert or Mediterranean island, but in fact sand lizards are native to the UK. Sadly, their numbers have plummeted in recent decades and are in desperate need of our help.

“In partnership with ARC, we are building a more resilient UK population, by boosting the numbers we have here at Farnham. Over the past six years we’ve worked to restore and create the perfect heathland habitat for these amazing creatures and we hope this will allow numbers to continue to grow in the coming years.”

The heathland found at RSPB Farnham Heath continues to not only provide a home for sand lizards, but a wealth of other species including field cricket, grass snake, Dartford warbler and ground nesting nightjars.

The UK has lost close to 80% of its heathland habitat since the turn of the 19th century through being converted to farmland, for forestry or used for housing. Farnham Heath’s 162 hectares sit within the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and offers a home to some our own rare heathland wildlife.

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