Dragonflies and damselflies bounce back from tough year

Dragonflies and damselflies bounce back from tough year

Black Darter (c) Mal Wilkinson

A survey into numbers of dragonflies and damselflies in the Durham Wildlife Trust area has shown that the insects have bounced back spectacularly after a challenging 2018.

The Trust-led project entered its fifth year in 2019 and surveys were carried out by volunteers who adopted sites in their local area and recorded dragonfly and damselfly larva and adults.

The previous year, 2018, was a year of extreme weather that had a significant impact on dragonflies in the Durham Wildlife Trust region. Firstly, during the whole of March, a large Arctic air mass stretched from Russia and the Far East to the British Isles (the ‘Beast From The East’) and brought with it significant snowfall and icy conditions, which had an adverse impact on some dragonfly and damselfly species.

Then June 2018 was the hottest on record since 1915 and the hot weather continued well into September, resulting in many wetland and pond areas drying up completely, which destroyed both eggs and larvae.

The weather in 2019 was very different and the region was awash with dragonflies and damselflies. First to emerge at the end of April was the large red damselfly, easy to identify partly as they are bright red and black. The last to be seen, at the Trust’s Rainton Meadows reserve near Houghton le Spring, in November was the migrant hawker, which survived two weeks of frost before finally bowing out.

Between April and November, the 21 volunteer spotters surveyed 46 sites between the Tees and the Tyne, fourteen of them Durham Wildlife Trust nature reserves, and recorded 1,296 sightings of 17 different species, including the black darter (shown in this photograph). That was up from 324 sightings and 15 species in 2018.

Among interesting sightings were a black darter male attempting to mate with a female common darter at a local nature reserve close to Annfield Plain and a stem of rushes holding more than 30 emerald damselfly exuvia (the shed exoskeleton of the larva) at Joe’s Pond Nature Reserve, near Houghton le Spring.

The most frequently spotted dragonfly in 2019 was the common darter, while the blue tailed damselfly was seen at the most sites (27 out of the 46 surveyed). Banded demoiselles, a beautiful iridescent damselfly, were far more common in the North East than has traditionally been the case.

Michael Coates, the Durham Wildlife Trust Trustee who organises the surveys and training for volunteers, said: “The survey effort this time has been truly outstanding. Watching dragonflies is an experience I think everyone would enjoy. The information gathered enables Durham Wildlife Trust to get a clearer picture of how dragonflies and damselflies are faring in Durham against national trends and helps the Trust monitor the wetland habitats these insects rely on. Dragonflies and damselflies are ideal indicators of wetland health because their larvae develop over quite a long period of time in the water. ‘’
Michael Coates, the Durham Wildlife Trust Trustee

With this winter having been so mild and wet to date, the likelihood is that 2020 will be another great year for dragonflies in the North East of England. The best Durham Wildlife Trust sites for spotting dragonflies are Rainton Meadows, Low Barns, Malton near Lanchester and Barlow Burn in Gateshead.

If you want to learn more about dragonflies and contribute to the 2020 survey, contact us at dragons@durhamwt.co.uk and also look out for events on our What’s On pages.

The first event will be at the end of April to, hopefully, see the first damselflies of the year emerge. However, nature doesn’t always run on schedule so it might just be that you get to go for a wonderful walk.


Dragonfly Exuvia at Rainton Meadows (c) Mandy Bell