Rare dragonfly returns to south Cumbria




After years of absence the first white-faced darters emerge at Foulshaw Moss Nature Reserve, near Kendal, in south Cumbria.

The recurrence of this darter dragonfly is part of the Cumbria Wildlife Trusts three-year programme to re-introduce it to the area.

White faced darter. Pic Dave Benham

White faced darter. Pic Dave Benham

It is hoped that these darters will now start to colonise the nature reserve.

The moss has over the last 13 years been restored to its former moss habitat, which is perfect for the extremely rare white-faced darter.

Working with the British Dragonfly Society with funding from Natural England, the Trust is now on the second of three annual phases of the reintroduction.

Dragonfly transportation

Aquatic larvae of the white-faced darter were collected from a donor site in north Cumbria and introduced to pools at Foulshaw Moss in 2010 and 2011.

The currently small population will be steadily strengthened by more batches of larvae in the next couple of seasons, after which it is hoped the colony will become fully self-sustaining.

The first ever dragonflies began hatching in mid-May this year and will be on the wing over the next few weeks.

Area of conservation

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.

The restoration work at Foulshaw Moss has really played a significant part in conserving the many threatened species
John Dunbavin, Cumbria Wildlife Trust

The white-faced darter was lost to this site because of afforestation and drainage but 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’.

The Trust is working with the British Dragonfly Society to secure the long-term future of this now rare species, which is currently found fewer 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 white-faced darter

The white-faced darter is a 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 when mature enough,  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.

Reversing the decline in dragonfly numbers

David Smallshire, Convenor of the British Dragonfly Society’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 decline of the species in the UK is thought to be because of the significant loss of lowland raised bog habitats.

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