A GROUP of the UK’s rarest lizard – the sand lizard - have been released back into the wild in Dorset.

MORE than 140 of these endangered species, bred at several locations including Marwell Zoo and Forestry England’s New Forest Reptile Centre, were released in a partnership project led by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) based in Bournemouth to return these species from near extinction.

The young sand lizards were reintroduced on Forestry England land in Dorset and follow on from a group of 200 released in the same spot last year.

Despite an unfavourable spring, many lizards managed to lay two clutches of eggs and the lack of prolonged hot or wet periods over the summer helped these to remain in good condition, prior to being excavated and incubated until hatching.

Once widespread in England, sand lizards have declined considerably owing to loss of suitable habitats and are now only found in a few isolated areas.

ARC recently carried out a country-wide survey of the species, classifying them as still highly endangered in the UK.

Dorset is one of the key strongholds for sand lizards with over 70 per cent of the remaining UK population found here.

Ongoing habitat restoration at Forestry England release sites in the area ensures the new populations have suitable habitat.

Mark Warn, wildlife ranger at Forestry England, said: “Dorset’s heathlands and forests are home to some of the UK’s rarest wildlife and we work hard to ensure they have the right habitats to thrive here.

“Projects like this require commitment over the long term and whilst there is still much more work to be done it’s really encouraging to see the positive progress being made by the sand lizards released over the last few years.

“We hope today’s release will further boost their population.”

Rachel Gardner, ecologist at Marwell Wildlife, said: “Our conservation breeding population of sand lizards has had another exceptional year.

“This is Marwell’s thirty third year of involvement with the sand lizard reintroduction project and prior to this we have contributed over 2,200 lizards to releases in the south of England.

“More widely we have seen favourable trends for native wildlife populations in 2021 across the protected areas we have restored and manage. It is wonderful that this is reflected in our contribution of sand lizard hatchlings to the release in Dorset this year.”

Nick Moulton, reptile conservation officer for ARC, said: “We are delighted to be able to release an encouragingly high number of sand lizards again this year.

“Conservation projects like this rely on the hard work and support of multiple agencies. We are extremely grateful to Forestry England for supporting the releases and their ongoing management of key habitats, and to Marwell Zoo and our breeding partners for their captive breeding expertise and ongoing support of this project.”