AN OPERATION to save a colony of common lizards from construction work on the new Montrose to Northwater cycle path has been hailed a success.
Over the last few weeks members of Friends of Angus Herpetofauna (FAH) and a team of volunteers have sought out the slow-moving reptiles to move them to safer areas away from the advancing diggers.
The group has also persuaded Angus Council to alter the route of the path slightly, away from a mound which is a known lizard habitat.
Conservationists moved eight lizards and two toads to safer parts of the Kinnaber stretch of the £279,000 combined cycle and footpath.
Although the lizards are common in the Angus glens, they are less so in the county’s lowland areas.
The species is protected against intentional killing and injuring and there were fears that the lizards, which are slow moving and have small territories which they never leave, could fall victim to earth-moving equipment.
The FAH worked with Angus Council to provide temporary refuges to attract the small reptiles, allowing volunteers to move them to a safer habitat before diggers moved on to the site.
A team of 52 volunteers carried out a final sweep of the area last week ahead of the council’s contractors in the hope of finding stragglers and moving them to a safe zone.
FAH spokesman Trevor Rose said the effort was a success despite the relatively small number of reptiles found.
He said: “I do think we’ve been successful in terms of raising awareness to Angus Council, and influencing the route of the path to some extent.
“Less successful has been the actual capture and relocation of lizards, but we had not expected great success with such short notice.
“Excavation of the cycle path is complete. I think we can presume most resident lizards had relocated themselves to the standing gorse and possibly beyond due to the exposure they experienced after the gorse had been cut.
“Predation by corvids and raptors was also a concern after the gorse was cut - we will never know if this was an issue but it’s a possibility.
“We can be reasonably sure few, if any, lizards came to harm during the excavation. It has certainly been a worthwhile exercise.
“The site appears fairly devastated now, but the contractor was very accommodating and laid the spoils carefully to the edge of the path, creating an embankment the length of the site. These turf mats lay ‘folded’ loosely on the cut gorse stumps and I am quite confident that any lizards hiding among the stumps will be able to free themselves.”
Mr Rose also said that larger gorse root systems were left exposed for lizard refuge and for basking, and that once the new embankment has “settled” with new vegetation it will make an ideal lizard habitat.
He said: “Angus Council is also considering installing an information notice for passers-by and path users to mention the presence of the lizards and acknowledge the effort that went into preserving them.”
Once completed, the path will form a link in the Sustrans national cycle route and the North Sea Cycle Route.