Britain’s Other Lizard

Talking to a local falconer (the way I find out about most interesting local wildlife) I was made aware that I live within a couple miles of one of Britain’s smallest colonies of wall lizard. They are confined to one flint wall, and seem perfectly happy there. Apparently they’ve been there since 1981, when the owner of the house brought a few back with him from France. It has yet to occur to the lizards to try out any of the other walls in the area. Or maybe it has, and they weren’t to their liking.

Smart little critters they are too. In size and appearance they are somewhere between common lizards and sand lizards. The males, a healthy green colour (though there is also a brown form), the females, less so. As the name suggests, they like walls, cliffs and quarries, and seem to be particularly fond of man-made habitat. If you’ve been anywhere vaguely warm in Europe, you’ve probably seen them. The only native British population is on Jersey, where they are a protected species.

Credit: Fritz Geller-Grimm

Credit: Fritz Geller-Grimm

Like the vast majority of non-native species to enter the country, they are yet to cause ecological apocalypse. Britain seems to be too cold for them to expand their range far beyond their original release sites. So for now, they sit on their walls, eat insects, and occasionally cause passing naturalists such as myself to observe ‘I say!’ and ‘Curious!’ and suchlike.

Wall lizards have actually been living happily enough in Britain since about the 1930s, and because they show a distinct lack of ambition in doing anything other than sitting on a sunny wall, few people have really noticed them. Thanks to human helpers such as my neighbours there are now around fifty disparate populations in southern England. Current population estimates hover around the 20,000 mark, with some signs of increase (compare that with our rarest native reptile, the smooth snake, which seems to be sitting on a population of about 3,500). One can only assume that when the whole climate change thing goes down and things start warming up a bit (which is now), they might think about spreading.

Would that be a problem? Possibly. Wall Lizards have done an excellent job of colonising the cliffs around Bournemouth, because these cliffs are, in essence, one enormous south-facing wall in the warmest part of the country. This increase seems to be correlative with decreases in numbers of native sand lizard and common lizard in the area, but nothing has been proven yet.

One to watch, then, for the future. They may be coming to a wall near you.

For more information, head on over to the excellent Surrey Amphibian and Reptile Group (SARG) website. They are doing a really interesting project of monitoring the species in Britain.

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Andy Painting

Writer, I guess.

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