The Botanic Gardens in Ventnor contain Gift to Nature’s pilot project. A drystone wall was built as a demonstration of lizard-friendly construction. The construction was coupled with a campaign in the town to inform residents of how to look after their wall lizards. A lizard walk was developed to feature great lizard spotting sites along with a number of art installations with our lizardesque “Intrepid Walker”. Please note since construction of the wall an admission charge has been introduced to the botanic gardens.
These very special reptiles are found nowhere else on the Island and in very few other places nationwide. In 2002 we installed a drystone wall for the lizards (near the Temperate House). Visit on a sunny day and you are almost guaranteed to see one either at our wall or any sunny rocky area, scurrying for cover or basking happily in full view.
With the help of the Island Conservation Volunteers we constructed a 3.5 metre dry stone wall in Ventnor Botanic Gardens, renowned for their micro-climate, as the gardens are sunny, south-facing and sheltered so great for a basking lizard. The nooks and crannies of the wall provide an ideal home for the lizards and the colony is now well-established and continues to thrive. The origins of this colony of Wall Lizards are unclear though it is likely that they were introduced.
Wall Lizards are about 8cm long, and are most active between April and October. The best time to spot these lizards is on a sunny day in late summer – they favour south facing rocks and walls. They can frequently be found in the car park at La Falaise and obviously on our wall in the Botanic Garden.
About the Ventnor population of Wall Lizards
The Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis) has long been a feature of the walls and gardens of the area around Ventnor Bay. These small green and brown reptiles are taking advantage of the warmth and sunshine of the south east facing bay, away from the prevailing south west and cold north winds. Active throughout the summer they are an intriguing addition to the Island’s varied wildlife and are also a unique population of endangered reptiles.
Where did they come from?
There is no simple answer to this question. They are thought to have been introduced during the 19th century, but since they are native on both the Channel Islands and the near French continent some experts believe they could even be native here. Genetic studies are being done in Germany to find out more.
Why are they unique?
However they arrived, the Ventnor wall lizards are the longest established population of wall lizards in Britain. We are keen to conserve Ventnor’s wall lizards as part of an international conservation plan under the Bern Convention.
The stone walls and gardens are good hunting grounds for this small reptile that feeds on insects, spiders and other creepy crawlies. They need to live in warm, windless conditions as they are cold-blooded and need to eat each day to move and digest their food. Cracks in the walls allow them to shelter and feed away from predators and provide both sites for egg laying and feeding of their young.
Why do they need our help?
In northern Europe all wall lizards are found associated with buildings and walls – they are real urban wildlife. They do not harm people, pets or other wildlife but being small and vulnerable, they are often forgotten in plans and projects to improve our urban environment.
What can we do to help?
- The threats to wall lizards include predation by cats, re-pointing of old walls, shading of walls and rockeries and tidying up areas without thinking about their requirements. You can help:
- When dismantling walls or tidying up gardens do it carefully so as not to injure lizards – wall lizards hibernate in winter and are very vulnerable at this time.
- Re-point walls sympathetically leaving some small gaps and holes so that the lizards can still use them.
- When re-building walls use air bricks or pipes to act as shelters and tunnels in the structure.
- Decrease shading on walls by pruning bushes and trees but leave some ivy and other vegetation as these are good egg laying sites.
The continental feel of Ventnor with its exotic Botanic Garden and warm sheltered bay has long been its attraction. It is these very qualities that have allowed wall lizards to thrive for the most part of a century and possibly even longer. The wildlife of the countryside has long had its champions but this unique urban animal needs us to look after it.