Cumbria First for Rare Dragonfly

South Cumbria will be the first to see the re-introduction of the rare white-faced darter dragonfly onto Foulshaw Moss Nature Reserve, near Witherslack.

Male White Faced Darter Dragonfly

Male White Faced Darter Dragonfly by Tristan Reid

Funded by Natural England, this is the first attempt to reintroduce the white-faced darter dragonfly anywhere in the UK.

Cumbria Wildlife Trust is working with the British Dragonfly Society to secure the long-term future of this rare species, currently only found on less than 10 sites in England.


The reintroduction will help to prevent the dragonfly’s extinction in Cumbria and provide the Trust with an exciting ‘flagship’ Biodiversity Action Plan species on one of its key nature reserves. It will also provide opportunities for interpreting dragonfly behaviour and conservation to a wide range of audiences.

The first of three annual phases of reintroduction starts in June. Buckets of the Sphagnum moss amongst which the larvae of the white-faced darter live, have been collected from a donor site in north Cumbria and transported to Foulshaw Moss Nature Reserve.

This ‘mix’ will contain eggs and two generations of larvae of the white-faced darter and it is hoped that this will result in these very attractive insects appearing on the wing at Foulshaw Moss from spring 2011, colonising the myriad of pools found on the site.

Foulshaw Moss Nature Reserve is one of three large lowland raised bogs that make up the Witherslack Mosses Special Area of Conservation (SAC) in south Cumbria, which provide the perfect habitat for the white-faced darter. Cumbria Wildlife Trust has been restoring the Moss since 1998 and now the conditions are once again right for this dragonfly.


John Dunbavin, Reserves Officer for Cumbria Wildlife Trust, said; ‘The restoration work at Foulshaw Moss has really played a significant part in conserving the many threatened species that are only found on our lowland raised bogs. It has been a great pleasure to assist the British Dragonfly Society to re-establish the white-faced darter in the Witherslack area and with suitable management, we hope it will be another species that will be seen by future generations on the Witherslack Mosses for many years to come’.

White Faced Darter Dragonfly

The white-faced darter is small attractive dragonfly with a characteristic white face that lends it its name. The male is mainly black with scarlet and orange markings. Females are also predominantly black but have pale yellow markings. It likes to make its home in lowland peatbogs where it can find rafts of Sphagnum moss at the edges of acidic bog pools in which to lay its eggs.

The larvae that hatch are aquatic and spend two or three years amongst the Sphagnum moss living off other aquatic invertebrates. Those larvae mature enough to begin to emerge from the water in late May and you will be able to see them flying for three to four weeks, up to the end of July.

Species Decline

David Smallshire, Convenor of the BDS’s Conservation group, said; ‘The white-faced darter has been lost from half of its English sites in the last 50 years, so this initiative is an exciting opportunity to reverse that trend. The BDS is pleased to be associated with Cumbria Wildlife Trust in this project, which is only the second attempt ever to return a dragonfly to a former site.’

The decline of the species in the UK has mainly come from the significant loss of its lowland raised bog habitat, as a result of afforesation, commercial peat-cutting and lack of sympathetic management. It is now listed within the Cumbria Biodiversity Action Plan, which aims to maintain existing populations and possibly consider reintroductions to previously known sites if habitats can be restored and management revised to secure the species.

British Dragonfly Society

The British Dragonfly Society (BDS) promotes and encourages the study and conservation of dragonflies and their natural habitats.  In the past 50 years Britain has lost three species of dragonfly and a third of the remainder are in decline or considered threatened in the UK.

The BDS works to stop and reverse these trends and run a national recording scheme to map the diversity and distribution of species.  This helps them assess and advise on the health of a wide range of wetland habitats.  The British Dragonfly Society want to hear from anybody who spots a dragonfly just click on the link below.

More Information

British Dragonfly Society, Encouraging the study and conservation of dragonflies and their natural habitats, especially in the UK.
Cumbria Wildlife Trust, Protecting wildlife for the future.
Natural England

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