Paul Drane

Tracking Britain’s rarest lizard

Posted: 28th September, 2018

Marwell Wildlife is using tiny radio tags to track the movements of sand lizards reintroduced to the wild.

The Hampshire conservation charity fitted transmitters to 24 sand lizards released at Eelmoor Marsh Site of Special Scientific Interest at Farnborough to help understand their movements and habitat use. The tags, attached using veterinary surgical glue and a strip of surgical tape, will fall off after a short period of time or when the lizard sheds its skin and, at just 0.29 grams, each tiny tag is less than five per cent of the body weight of a sand lizard.

The study is being carried out as part of an initiative to re-establish the species at Eelmoor Marsh. Marwell Wildlife and University of Southampton PhD student, Rachel Gardner, said: “Because they blend into the environment and spend time foraging and hiding in dense undergrowth, sand lizards can be incredibly difficult to see. Being able to track them in this way is really exciting - I can’t wait to see how far they go, how quickly, and exactly how they use the habitat.” She added: “Having spent the last year rearing the lizards in captivity, it’s wonderful to finally release them into their natural habitat and apply this novel technology to see how they do.”

Despite occurring widely across Europe and Asia, the sand lizard (Lacerta agilis) is threatened in the north-western part of its range. The species disappeared from much of its former habitat in England and Wales due to habitat loss and degradation, but is recovering following concerted conservation efforts.

Now in its second year of releases, the project at Eelmoor Marsh will see a total of around 250 sand lizards released into their natural heathland habitat. In partnership with the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust and Natural England, Marwell has contributed nearly 2,000 sand lizards for reintroduction on heathland and sand dune sites across the South of England over the last 25 years.

Marwell Wildlife has launched a fundraising campaign to refresh and increase the size of its facilities for breeding, studying and reintroducing sand lizards at Marwell Zoo in order to safeguard this rare species. To find out more, go to: https://www.marwell.org.uk/zoo/support/make-a-donation.

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