We managed to put another piece of the heathland jigsaw back together today. Ever since we started to restore the heath, one of the best bits about my job has been seeing how the heathland wildlife returned. Over the years, as areas of heath have matured, more and more of the typical heathland species have turned up, under their own steam, as it were. Obviously there was a small snag with our policy of letting things make their own way back - for less mobile species, especially those without wings, it was always a big ask. This is particularly the case now that heaths are sadly reduced to isolated patches, scattered across the landscape, rather than the vast, continuous areas of habitat our forebears knew.
So, what to do for those key heathland species that would struggle to get here unaided? Translocation could be the answer. We did it earlier for field crickets, and that seems to have been a success (several fingers crossed as I type that!), so today, working with conservation partners Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, we released 35 captive bred juvenile sand lizards onto the reserve. The intention is to repeat that for the next two autumns as well, using roughly similar numbers of juveniles. Hopefully that will be enough to get a population going. Sand lizards are very rare in the UK, and with the exception of some populations on sand dunes on Merseyside, confined to heathland. The adult males are a fantastic vivid green during the spring, so they will be well worth looking out for when they are mature in a couple of years time. At this stage in their lives both sexes are well camouflaged, which is ideal as they are very vulnerable to predation, at least until the captive bred youngsters become more "street wise" about the dangers of being out in the big wide world.
And, as if getting sand lizards back wasn't good enough, this afternoon I saw, and heard, a young Dartford warbler! Bingo! Full House! Obviously one Dartford on it's own doesn't mean much, but hopefully it will stick around until spring and attract a mate. Now that really would be the icing on the cake!
And here's a link to some live footage on YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch