Rare baby lizards released in UK rescue mission

LONDON (Reuters) - Hundreds of rare baby sand lizards are being released into the British countryside as part of a national campaign to save endangered reptiles from extinction, a wildlife charity said on Thursday.

A sand lizard is shown in this undated handout file photo. REUTERS/Fred Holmes/Amphibian and Reptile Conservation/Handout

The Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC) said it will reintroduce nearly 400 of the green and brown reptiles, Britain’s biggest and rarest lizard, to sites across England and Wales.

Once a common sight in parts of Britain, the shy creature has disappeared in some areas due to a devastating loss of its favored habitat: sand dunes or heathland.

Across Europe, urban sprawl, pollution, climate change and intensive farming have put huge pressure on many reptiles and amphibians.

One fifth of Europe’s reptiles and nearly a quarter of its amphibians are in danger, according to a study for the European Commission released in May.

Experts hope the new lizards, which were specially bred in captivity, should have a better chance of survival because European law now protects them and their habitat.

“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 in the UK,” said Dr Tony Gent, ARC’s joint chief executive.

A stocky reptile with short legs and a blunt nose, the sand lizard, or lacerta agilis, feeds on snails, spiders and insects.

The males’ green flanks become brighter during the breeding season when they will fight each other for females.

The first release of about 80 baby lizards, which are just two inches (5cm) long, will take place on Thursday at a National Trust reserve in Surrey, southeast England.

Tom Tew, chief scientist for Natural England, a government body which supported the project, said the release would help to reverse the decline in England’s biodiversity.

“Reptiles and amphibians are coming under pressure from an increasing number of factors, including habitat loss, disease and a future of climate change,” he said.

Editing by Steve Addison