Looking for lizards in a changing world

ASK people if they have ever seen a lizard close-up in Ireland and chances are many will reply in the negative.

These little animals are here but, like many other species, are falling in numbers for various reasons. The Irish Wildlife Trust is asking people to report any sightings of lizards to it. It’s unlikely many people will get exercised about the fate of the lizard, but there’s a wider issue involved.

Its decline is another telling sign of diminishing wildlife habitat which has fallen victim to large-scale development – housing and roads, for example – and the intensification of farming in recent decades. And, now, as we have often seen in the past, people are trying to turn the clock back, with calls by some groups for greater protection of the so-called green Ireland and for such protection to be enshrined in our planning systems.

Already in Northern Ireland, researchers at Queen’s University Belfast have called for a new ecological network which, they argue, is urgently needed to ensure the continued survival of the precious lizard population.

Lizards are found in coastal areas, heath and boglands but a Queen’s study, has found their natural habitats may have disappeared through agricultural intensification.

“Unless we act quickly to establish a new ecological network that will preserve the connectivity of remaining heath and boglands, these reptiles could disappear from our landscape altogether,” says Dr Neil Reid, manager of Quercus, Queen’s centre for biodiversity and conservation science.

An interesting feature of lizards is that they have no internal temperature regulation system and their body temperature depends on their environment. If it gets too cold for them, they move into the sun and into the shade when it gets too hot.

The aim is to increase awareness of the lizard population and protect its habitats, which are continuing to be altered by conversion to agriculture, forestry, development of links golf courses, invasive species and development in general. Experts tell us Ireland has started to value the contribution the natural world makes to the wellbeing of our population, economy and environment.

However, according to a new report from Comhar Sustainable Development Council (SDC), we need a system where the protection of our green infrastructure becomes part of the planning process.

The report’s editor, Dr Cathy Maguire, says development has been a major driver of habitat damage and the situation continues to decline because not enough attention is being given to it in decision-making by business and government.

She wants to see the introduction of a green infrastructure approach to planning policy which would help to protect, create and manage green infrastructure in a proactive way.

Ms Maguire describes green infrastructure as a network of protected green spaces that help conserve natural ecosystems and provide benefits to people through water purification, flood control, carbon capture, food production and recreation.

The report contains a range of recommendations to government on how green infrastructure can be developed in Ireland. These include the development of national guidance and objectives, the inclusion of green infrastructure in policy and legislation and maps.

Professor Frank Convery, Chairperson of Comhar SDC, says green infrastructure that is operating at its peak and is well connected can makes cities, towns and rural areas better places in which to work.

“The health benefits of a green infrastructure are also numerous. Well-planned green spaces can act as important places to exercise, particularly in an urban centre. They also provide play areas for children and act as a recreational space for members of the local community. This offers positive benefits in terms of a community’s physical and mental health.”

Meanwhile, for people who have never seen a lizard, the most noticeable thing about them is that their tail can be almost twice as long the body. Lizards are usually 12cm (5 in) long, excluding the tail. The colour and patterning of this species is remarkably variable with the main colour being typically mid-brown, but it can be also grey, olive brown or black. Females may have dark stripes on their flanks and down the middle of the back. Males have brightly coloured undersides – typically yellow or orange, but more rarely red. Females have paler, whitish underparts.


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