MORE than 140 of the UK's rarest lizards bred at a Hampshire zoo have been released back into the wild.

Bred at several locations including Marwell Zoo and Forestry England’s New Forest Reptile Centre, more than 140 sand lizards, an endangered species, were released in Dorset in a partnership project led by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) 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.

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.

"Marwell Wildlife is committed to the restoration of species and habitats and we are thrilled to be able to continue supporting this vital conservation work.

"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.”

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 of southern England and Merseyside.

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

Reintroductions in several locations across the UK are seeking to boost numbers and restore the habitats these rare animals need to thrive.

In the UK sand lizards are dependent on dry, sandy lowland heathland or coastal sand dunes.

Growing to around 20cms long, females can be identified by their sandy-brown colour with rows of dark and white spots called ocelli along their backs.

Males have vivid green flanks which are particularly distinctive during the breeding season.