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Iconic Delamere dragonfly returns after 10 year absence

Monday 1st July 2013

Emerging white-faced darter (c) Dr Vicky NallEmerging white-faced darter (c) Dr Vicky Nall

Cheshire Wildlife Trust have said they are delighted that one of the first stages of an ambitious five-year plan to reintroduce one of the UK’s rarest dragonflies back into the region – after a decade of absence – has been successfully completed.

The white-faced darter dragonfly was last seen in the wild in Cheshire over the pools of Delamere Forest in 2003.

The project team has now announced that in recent days they have seen adult white-faced darters flying, and recorded evidence of a number of other individuals emerging from the water in a specially selected pool where they were re-introduced earlier in the summer.

The return of the dragonflies comes after several years of dedicated work to reinstate and improve lost habitats in partnership with the Forestry Commission, Cheshire West & Chester Council and a carefully planned reintroduction.

Such a scheme has only been attempted twice before in the UK, again with white-faced darters in Cumbria and with the southern damselfly in Devon.

It’s hoped the combined approach of creating suitable areas for the dragonflies to survive in pools within the forest, coupled with annual translocations and careful monitoring will see a self-sustaining population of white-faced darters back in the region within ten years.

The habitat is as good as it can be to receive the dragonflies

The species is thought to have disappeared from the Delamere area following changes to the delicate water quality and levels of the pools they bred in during the late 1990s, but they would have been a common sight in the Meres and Mosses landscape of the North West in centuries gone by.

The project follows the successful reintroduction of the species in Cumbria, where Cheshire Wildlife Trust staff have been observing the techniques needed to achieve the ground-breaking move.

Transferring dragonflies at Delamere

“We’re extremely excited after months of preparation to see this iconic dragonfly species back where it belongs”, said Dr. Vicky Nall who has been heavily involved in the extensive research behind the project.

“Our first challenge was to collect the amazingly colourful ‘highlighter pen’ green larvae – just a few millimetres long – from sites where Natural England has generously allowed us access at Fenn's & Whixall and Chartley mosses, both National Nature Reserves.

“The work done by partners including the Forestry Commission meant that we were confident in making the translocation now, safe in the knowledge that the habitat is as good as it can be to receive the dragonflies.”

Once the dragonflies begin to emerge, researchers will monitor their numbers through tracking flying adults and also by counting the empty larval cases the dragonflies leave behind on vegetation emerging from the water.

Adrienne Bennett, Ecologist with the Forestry Commission added:
“We're really pleased that the restoration and conservation of the meres and mosses that we have been working on at Delamere Forest has created suitable breeding conditions for the reintroduction of this key flagship species. We're privileged to have been able to play an important part in this partnership project, and it will be great to see the white-faced darter back on Forestry Commission land in Cheshire after a decade.”

Dr. Nall added: “We hope that by building a healthy new population year-on-year, this really will become a dragon’s den for the species, bringing back the white-faced darter that has long been the emblem of Delamere Forest”

The scheme has been supported by the British Dragonfly Society and also the Meres and Mosses Landscape Partnership who have backed training days to assist the ongoing monitoring programme.

The Trust is also inviting people to help out with the project as volunteers, tracking the progress of the emerging adults and other dragonfly species in the area. If you would like to take part contact Dr. Vicky Nall on vnall@cheshirewt.org.uk or on 01948 820728.