Home > Lizards > Lizards Saved at a Sewage Works: A Case Study

Lizards Saved at a Sewage Works: A Case Study

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 20 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Lizards Sewage Works Wastewater Thames

Spending Christmas in a log cabin sounds more like the sort of thing to appeal to people, rather than 100 sleepy lizards – but that’s exactly what happened to one group of reptiles when they found themselves caught up in a major construction project at a Dartford sewage works.

The colony was discovered in the summer of 2010, as Thames Water began to prepare the ground at their Long Reach wastewater treatment plant ahead of its planned £40 million upgrade – part of a huge project aimed at improving the general water quality of the River Thames. As fate would have it, the reptiles were living precisely where the work was going to take place and with some 35,000 tonnes of soil excavation scheduled to happen, it was immediately obvious that they would need to be relocated for their own safety.

Catch and Re-home

Despite the name, and like other native British reptiles, the common lizard (Zootoca vivipara – formerly known as Lacerta vivipara) is nowhere near as common as it once was, now being a priority species in the UK’s Biodiversity Action Plan, and protected by law. Thames Water turned to a specialist to help them re-home their new-found population.

The first step, obviously, was to capture them safely and as Thames Water’s own ecologist, Claudia Innes, explains, the relocation team used the lizards’ natural thermoregulation behaviour to help, laying lengths of roofing felt on the ground around their home. The lizards weren’t slow to notice how quickly the felt warmed up in the summer sun, compared with the rest of the site, and started using it to get a head start on the day – allowing Thames Water’s hired expert to collect them with minimum disturbance in the early hours of the morning.

A Real Success Story

The lizards’ new winter ‘log-cabin’ hibernaculum was created out of logs and soil left over from the work and has been contained within a lizard-proof reptile fence to keep them out of harm’s way until well after the construction traffic has left in 2012. Perhaps most importantly, they seem to have settled into their new home very successfully and are “doing well” according to ecologist Claudia.

“In some ways it’s an ironic tale,” says consultant herpetologist, Mike Steading. “You’ve got one project underway to bring environmental improvement – and it causes an environmental problem for a locally significant population of lizards at a time when numbers are dwindling nationally, and good habitats are disappearing fast. Thames Water need to be congratulated on turning this into a real success story.”

Looking to the Future

He thinks that this kind of thing may become more common as changes to legislation force many industries to re-vamp their facilities. “For things like sewage plants that have been around for years, once they’ve been built, they tend to be surprisingly quiet in day to day use. Add to that the fact that you tend to build them away from people and houses, and they occupy a fair chunk of ground, and you’ve sort of accidentally created a mini wildlife habitat that few people ever visit.”

If it becomes necessary to modify or expand the facility some years later, he explains, there may well be things living there that nobody knew about, and some of those animals may be very vulnerable to that kind of disturbance.

“Someone at that Thames Water plant was pretty eagle-eyed,” he says, “to spot those lizards in the first place. It would have been so easy for them to have been missed and buried under all that soil.”

Steading believes that raising awareness of just how important supposedly ‘industrial’ sites can be for a variety of native animals and plants could be a key factor in maintaining British biodiversity for future generations – especially when it comes to the UK’s reptiles. “Surveys show that numbers are down generally and it seems to be all bad news, and then you come across sites like these and their forgotten colonies.”

If wider awareness does ultimately prove to be as important as he believes, then Thames Water and the ‘log-cabin lizards’ will have done a lot to help.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Why not be the first to leave a comment for discussion, ask for advice or share your story...

If you'd like to ask a question one of our experts (workload permitting) or a helpful reader hopefully can help you... We also love comments and interesting stories

(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments
  • SON
    Re: Reptile Keeping and the Law FAQs
    Just found out my tenant has at least 10 snakes in my upper floor apartment - I am checking on the lease, but is it legal to…
    22 February 2021
  • Reptile mo.
    Re: What to do if Your Reptile Escapes
    My bearded has escaped and it's been 24 hrs I've looked everywhere. He's no where to be found what shouldni do
    23 November 2020
  • arc
    Re: What to do if Your Reptile Escapes
    our baby green anole escaped in our apartment and we can't find him and he blends into the carpet
    17 November 2020
    Re: Keeping Tortoises as Pets
    My daughter in law has recently homed a tortoise from a local rescue centre, the tortoise is doing very well and seems to be happy and…
    12 November 2020
  • Benny
    Re: Keeping Caimans
    Hi, i'm studying a L3 Animal Management Course and am working on my Exotic animals assignment. I'm looking at caimans and why people have them as…
    6 November 2020
  • Andy
    Re: Keeping Caimans
    I am finding it hard to find insurance companies that will insure me for my licence that I need to own one I stay in the UK can anyone out there…
    12 September 2020
  • Shane
    Re: Keeping Bearded Dragons as Pets
    I have a new dragon 4 years old coming today I already have a 4 year old dragon both boys and I let the meet the first time…
    28 August 2020
  • Tan ver
    Re: 10 Common Myths about Turtles and Tortoises
    I grew up my turtle from. Baby since last 2 yrs nd. Day ago I couldn't find him. EverDay I used to take him…
    25 August 2020
  • Deb
    Re: Should I Leave the Heat Bulb on Overnight?
    We have a baby comillion in a screen enclosure. What should the temperature be.
    22 August 2020
  • Reidy
    Re: What to do if Your Reptile Escapes
    My juvenile black and white tegu escaped his enclosure and got outside I've checked absolutely everywhere even pulled up…
    19 August 2020