A national energy company building a wind farm has planned the project so as not to disturb colonies of a tiny endangered lizard.
The populations of pygmy bluetongue lizards have meant Energy Australia will divert roads and other infrastructure to their proposed project in South Australia near Burra.
The Melbourne-based company is waiting on a decision from the Environment, Resources and Development Court before it goes ahead with the multi-million-dollar wind farm.
The pygmy bluetongue lizard was thought to have been extinct until 1992 when one was found in the belly of a dead brown snake.
Since that time researchers at Flinders University, as well as farmers and the community around Burra, have worked to keep the lizard off the endangered list.
The reptile, which measures only 15cm at full length, spends most of its life down spider holes – having either killed or evicted the resident wolf or trap-door spiders.
Energy Australia project development manager Clint Purkiss said the protocols for planning developments always included a flora and fauna audit.
The presence of the threatened lizard does not impact on the location of the Stony Gap windmills but roads would have passed through the bluetongue’s territory.
“We have certainly factored it into the design of some of the ancillary infrastructure,” Mr Purkiss said.
“There are areas of existing track where there are small populations … which we will fence off and utilise the track away from the populations.
“There are some areas of reticulation, the overhead and underground cabling that we will … design in accordance with the Pygmy Bluetongue Lizard Recovery Team.”
Mr Purkiss said it was not unusual to plan developments around important plants and animals.
“It’s just part of the process,” he said.
‘One of the most studied lizards in Australia’
About 5,000 pygmy bluetongue lizards have been located in the region from Eudunda to Jamestown.
Chris Reed, a wool producer outside Burra, sold 80 hectares of his land in 2010 to conservation group Nature Foundation SA to promote the long-term survival of the lizard colonies in the region.
Researchers from Flinders University have found cropping and cultivating the land will destroy the lizard’s burrows but some sheep grazing can enhance the reptile’s welfare, because they are able to find spider burrows to shelter in and can also more easily sight their prey.
“So what we are really trying to do is figure out exactly what is the right level of grazing, what is going to be the best for the lizards”, said Professor Mike Bull at Flinders University’s School of Biological Sciences.
Professor Bull has been studying the lizards for 20 years.
He said with 10 PhD projects and numerous other research projects it is “probably one of the most studied lizards in Australia”.
Documentary-maker David Attenborough even included a segment on the lizard in his Life in Cold Blood series.
Every September, Nature Foundation SA holds its “Lizard Crawl” at Tiliqua, a reserve north-west of Burra, where the local community is encouraged to understand more about the lizard and look out for the holes they live in.
Professor Bull said it is important the community takes ownership of their unique little reptile.
“I’m not going to keep on going forever … so we need to leave the community with a way of looking after the lizards – a way of monitoring how they are going,” he said.