Hopes flying high for seeing rare dragonflies in north Cumbria

An exciting conservation project is introducing one of Britain’s rarest dragonflies to Drumburgh Moss
Image of white-faced darter © David Clarke

White-faced darter © David Clarke

The white-faced darter, a small, dark dragonfly with a distinctive white head, is currently only found in a handful of sites across England. Cumbria Wildlife Trust, the British Dragonfly Society and Natural England have launched a programme to introduce this rare species at Drumburgh Moss National Nature Reserve near Carlisle. Phase one started in April when staff and volunteers collected over 100 dragonfly larvae from a healthy donor population and released them into specially created pools at the nature reserve.

The decline of white-faced darters in Britain is linked to the destruction of the habitat they depend on – peatlands with deep bog-pools. Kevin Scott, Reserves Officer at Cumbria Wildlife Trust explains: “Lowland peat bog habitat like this is extremely rare due to around 95% of it having been destroyed, mostly to make peat compost, with bog pools drying out because of drainage and poor management. This is a national tragedy as these peatlands are home to some important species, many of which are under serious threat. Breeding birds include curlew and snipe; reptiles include adders and common lizards. There are also many specialist plants and invertebrates that rely on these peatlands: sundews, cranberry and bog bush crickets to name a few. These peatlands are also incredibly important for the environment as they are highly efficient carbon sinks, removing and ‘locking up’ carbon from the atmosphere.”

Drumburgh Moss was chosen for the dragonfly introduction project as it has over 150 hectares of restored peatbogs, the ideal breeding ground for this species, with quantities of floating Sphagnum moss, which the dragonflies need for laying their eggs.

The Trust has already successfully reintroduced the white-faced darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) at Foulshaw Moss Nature Reserve in the south of the county. Kevin continues: “The restoration works we have successfully carried out on the peatlands at Drumburgh Moss have created an ideal habitat for the white-faced darter and although the species has not been recorded on this particular reserve before, it has occurred in the Solway area in the past and its introduction here is crucial to ensure its continued survival in the north of England. We hope and expect this project to be as successful at the similar project carried out at Foulshaw Moss from 2010.”

Eleanor Colver, Conservation Officer at the British Dragonfly Society said: “With our rapidly changing climate, it is vital that we work hard to strengthen and expand populations of vulnerable species, such as the white-faced darter, in order to provide them with a better chance of surviving the uncertain times ahead. The white-faced darter is such a unique little insect, we hope this project will encourage local residents and tourists to visit Drumburgh Moss in order to catch a glimpse of it and explore the other wonderful wetland wildlife the Solway Mosses have to offer.”

The next phase of the project will involve moving some of the Sphagnum moss from the donor site to Drumburgh Moss. This will contain eggs as well as some hatchling larvae and this process will be repeated annually for the next four years.

Whilst this is going on, the donor site and Drumburgh Moss National Nature Reserve will be carefully monitored to assess the success of the project, as well as ensuring the donor population is not adversely affected. 

It is hoped that there will be further similar projects undertaken at other suitable mosses in the county in the future.

With our rapidly changing climate, it is vital that we work hard to strengthen and expand populations of vulnerable species, such as the white-faced darter
Eleanor Colver
Conservation Officer, British Dragonfly Society