Crucial havens for wildlife have been saved thanks to a five-year conservation effort.
The heathland has been restored at 41 sites across the South Downs National Park in Hampshire and Sussex enabling the creation of a new habitat for the sand lizard, the UK’s rarest reptile.
In total, the sites add up to an area roughly equal to 18,000 football pitches.
The Heathlands Reunited initiative, which received £2 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, has also enabled the return and recovery of endangered species including the field cricket, the Dartford warbler and the natterjack toad.
“The need was profound because less than 1% of former heathland remains in the National Park and what was left was very fragmented, leaving animals and plants vulnerable to extinction in these isolated island habitats.
“Heathlands are, in fact, man-made and only exist because our ancestors used them to dig peat for fuel, harvest heather and graze animals, unwittingly creating a unique mosaic of habitats which many plants and animals now can’t survive without.”
Among the areas restored were Woolmer Forest, a Site of Special Scientific Interest in Hampshire which is home to 12 of Britain’s native reptiles and amphibian species and which is now rated to be in “favourable condition” for wildlife.
Andrew Lee, Director of Countryside Policy and Management at the National Park Authority, said: “We all know biodiversity is under unprecedented threat, but Heathlands Reunited is one of the success stories, showing how much can be achieved if we make space for nature.
“Seeing animals such as the woodlark, sand lizard and field cricket flourish once again is truly inspiring.”