More than 100 rare sand lizards are set to be released in Dorset.

Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) has planned to release up to 150 sand lizards in an area affected by heath fires over the last couple of years in an attempt to restore the population of this rare species to a self-sustaining level.

The lizards were bred in captivity, and 23 have already been released.

Dorset Echo: Reintroducing sand lizards to Winfrith HeathReintroducing sand lizards to Winfrith Heath (Image: James HItchen)

In the UK, sand lizards only live on two habitats - sand-dune and lowland dry heath which are rare and threatened habitats.

The reptiles have been released on Winfrith Heath in a recovery attempt for the rare species.

As much as 75% of Dorset’s heathland has been lost over the last century due to development, agricultural intensification, and afforestation.

The heathland was affected by a serious fire and sand lizards have not been seen there since.

Dorset Echo: Winfrith HeathWinfrith Heath (Image: Steve Masters)

Sand lizards are one of the species to benefit from a Species Recovery Programme Grant from Natural England to fund the recovery of rare species and habitats across Dorset.

The funding is focused on reducing the risk of extinction and promoting the recovery of our most threatened species.

DWT Ecologist, Steve Masters said: “Our nature reserves are at the heart of our ambition to recover some of our rarest UK species and habitats.

“Thanks to the funding from Natural England, we can undertake the work needed to ensure this is the case.

“We have monitored the site closely for the last decade to assess the condition of the habitat, before deciding that reintroduction is the right thing to do.

“Sand lizards are an iconic species of our heathland ecosystems, and it is amazing to be part of their return.”

Work has been undertaken on the heath to create and manage the bare ground habitat which is essential for successful egg development and the reintroduction of the sand lizards.

The juveniles have been bred at captive breeding centres managed by Marwell Wildlife, Dorset Council and Forestry England.

These centres have outdoor enclosures that mimic the sand lizard's natural environment. 

Jim Foster, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) Conservation Director at DWT said: “This new translocation of sand lizards to the exceptional landscape of Winfrith Heaths is of vital importance.

“Thank you to all the organisations who have worked together to make sure that we have the highest chance of success to re-establish this important species and to restore thriving populations.”