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The University of Southampton

Heathland research project to help save the sand lizard

Published: 14 October 2004

A pioneering project to research the lifestyle and habitat of the endangered sand lizard is getting underway on Dorset heathland, thanks to a grant from the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme.

The Herpetological Conservation Trust (HCT) has enlisted the help of the University of Southampton in this four-year programme. Its £144,000 funding has come from the SITA Environmental Trust. Additional money came from the People's Trust for Endangered Species and an anonymous donor.

Numbers of sand lizards have plummeted over the last century, mainly because of the loss of heathland in southern England to urbanisation, agriculture and afforestation. However, the sand lizard is a secretive creature and difficult to survey.

"We know that sand lizards have suffered severe historical declines, but it's difficult to know how well they're doing now," explained Dr Chris Gleed-Owen, HCT Research and Monitoring Officer. "We need to be able to monitor the conservation status of these animals and the habitat they live in, to protect their populations and hopefully reverse some losses. The new grant will fund essential research into the ecology of sand lizards and allow us to develop appropriate monitoring techniques."

The research will be carried out by University PhD student Helen Fearnley. She commented: "I'm delighted that after several years of perseverance and many, many hours of field work, funding has finally been secured for this project.

"This research is desperately needed to ensure sand lizard populations in the UK are conserved and enhanced using the most appropriate management techniques. I'm looking forward to spending many more hours 'lizarding' in the field in the knowledge that the data I'm collecting will benefit these fascinating creatures."

As part of the research, Helen plans to radio-track the lizards by harnessing them with tiny transmitters, to find out where and how far they move in their daily activities. The project also involves heathland recreation, and the research will examine how sand lizards colonise new areas of suitable habitat.

Dr Malcolm Hudson
from the University's Centre for Environmental Sciences added: "The University of Southampton has a long history of ecological research and has made a real difference in the past to conserving endangered species. This project gives us a real opportunity to help creatures whose traditional stronghold in the south of England has been badly damaged or destroyed by human activity."

Every year the SITA Environmental Trust distributes £6million to community and environmental projects across the UK. All funding comes from the waste management firm SITA UK, through the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme, introduced in 1996 to enable landfill operators to voluntarily redirect to good causes a proportion of the tax they pay to Government.

John Leaver, Chairman of SITA Environmental Trust said: "This is an exciting opportunity to invest funds into biodiversity, which is a new area of funding for the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme. This research will be vital for securing the future of the sand lizard in the UK."

Related Staff Member

Notes for editors

  1. The Herpetological Conservation Trust (HCT) is dedicated to the conservation of Britain's amphibians and reptiles, particularly the rarer species, and works hard to raise awareness and influence policy. The Trust manages 75 nature reserves in the heathlands of Dorset, Hampshire and Surrey and jointly coordinates national Species Action Plans. It also coordinates a national programme whereby sand lizards are bred in captivity and released to start new colonies each year.
    The Herpetological Conservation Trust
    People's Trust for Endangered Species
    Corporate responsibility pertaining to sustainability and environmental awareness:
  2. The SITA Environmental Trust was set up in 1997 and funds projects that improve sustainable waste management across the UK and community life and the natural environment close to active SITA UK-owned landfill sites. Landfill tax was introduced in 1996 to encourage more sustainable ways of managing waste. The Landfill Tax Credit Scheme was also introduced then to allow landfill operators to voluntarily donate 6.8 per cent of landfill tax liability to environmental improvement projects.
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