The New Forest Reptile Centre is open from Easter until the end of September from 10am – 4.30pm and is situated immediately off of the A35 about two miles west of Lyndhurst and clearly signposted. Entry is FREE and there is plenty of car parking space for which a donation is requested.
The New Forest Reptile Centre was created in 1974, by Keeper Derek Thompson, who was then the occupant of Holiday Hill Cottage, the property situated next to the Reptile Centre. His aim was to combine his personal enthusiasm for reptiles with the opportunity to educate the public about them by showing all the native species of reptile and amphibian together for the first time in the UK in simulated natural habitats. The centre is managed by Forestry England, and staffed and maintained by volunteers
It is a unique place to visit to see close-up all the native snakes and lizards found in Britain. Specially created outdoor pens provide a natural home to the rare Sand Lizards and Smooth Snakes. The poisonous Adder which is common across the Forest can also be seen here along with Grass Snakes, Slow Worms, Common Lizards and our native amphibians. The centre actively encourages the conservation and re-introduction of these animals across the country – it operates a very successful captive breeding programme for Sand Lizards and Natterjack Toads which are released back into the wild.
Tip – Reptiles are cold blooded creatures and are more likely to be active and visible at the Centre on warm sunny days.
Sand Lizards are a rare and endangered species preferring dry, open country. In Britain they are found only in the sandy heaths of Dorset, Hampshire and Surrey, and the Lancashire coastal strip. They were extinct in the New Forest by 1970. A captive breeding programme was set up by the Forestry Commission (now Forestry England) in 1985 in liaison with the British Herpetological Society. Breeding pairs were captured and bred at Marwell Zoo and the New Forest Reptile Centre and the young released onto selected sites. The program continues to be a success.
On site there is also a picnic area in scenic surroundings among the trees and an easy way marked Forest walk, the Reptile Trail, which is a mile long circular route taking in some really impressive Douglas Firs, a pond and some peaceful forest glades – you may even spot some deer along the way. The Reptile Centre is also on the New Forest cycle network. Its an ideal spot with something of interest for the whole family.
Further information on British amphibians and reptiles and their captive breeding programmes can be found on the Amphibian & Reptile Conservation (ARC) website. In addition Natural England have produced an excellent leaflet on “Reptiles in your Garden” which can be downloaded here.
The following short slideshow contains images of reptiles found at the centre.