MARWELL Zoo has been shortlisted for the Great British Wildlife Restoration competition, a new one-off award scheme recognising work to restore native species.

It has been hailed for its reintroduction of the UK’s rare sand lizards to southern England. The project began 30 years ago and has released more than 2,000 lizards to 28 heathland and coastal dune sites.

Sand lizards have impressive camouflage and are difficult to find after they have been released, so Marwell developed a study which fitted tiny radio-tracking backpacks to reintroduced lizards at Eelmoor Marsh SSSI, in north Hampshire, to evaluate post-release monitoring techniques. The tiny backpacks were shed after a couple of weeks and the zoo has been able to keep track of the lizards since then with more traditional monitoring.

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Carla Broom, wildlife ecologist at Marwell, said: “These fascinating creatures have experienced alarming declines in the UK due to the loss of their preferred habitat—sandy heathland. In May this year, I observed a female sand lizard digging a hole and settling inside ready to lay eggs! Witnessing this behaviour in action is a rare and extraordinary sight, as sand lizards are not commonly spotted in the wild. Not only is this a wonderful moment for anyone interested in wildlife, it is also a strong indication that our population is healthy and ready to thrive over the coming years.”

The Great British Wildlife Restoration, inspired by Sir David Attenborough’s Wild Isles BBC TV series, has been organised by BIAZA (British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums). It will shine a spotlight on some of the work taking place to tackle the decline of native species and will urge politicians to act now for nature.

Marwell joins 22 other shortlisted projects. Collectively these projects have helped thousands of animals, habitats and ecosystems. Species helped include red squirrels, oysters and glow worms.

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Dr Jo Judge, CEO of BIAZA, said: “We have an extraordinary shortlist of projects. They demonstrate that zoos and aquariums are not just saving exotic species but supporting wildlife on our doorstep. We have to treasure the nature we have and help it thrive. It should be widely known that BIAZA zoos and aquariums are doing just that. It’s a source of hope and something we can all be proud of.”

As a shortlisted project Marwell will be invited to a prestigious awards evening at the House of the Speaker of the House of Commons in January. The winner will have received the most votes from supportive Members of Parliament or Members of the House of Lords.

Only MPs and members of the House of Lords can vote but supporters of Marwell can get involved by writing to politicians asking them to vote for the Reintroduction of Sand Lizards to Southern England project. A template letter can be found on the Marwell website.