Male emperor dragonfly perched on twig

Dragonflies and damselflies in the Forest

4 October 2021
 by 

Dragonfly and damselfly populations are fluctuating across the UK due to climate change. Find out more about how we encourage odonata species in the Forest.

The British Dragonfly Society recently released their ‘State of Dragonflies 2021’ report detailing the changes in dragonfly and damselfly populations across the UK. Global warming has meant that as temperatures rise, we are seeing new species of odonata - the Latin family name for dragonfly and damselfly species - colonising the UK and inhabiting more northern areas. The current list includes 56 species across Britain and Ireland, 23 of which have been recorded in the Forest over the last decade.

White-legged damselfy
White-legged damselfy

 

The impact of climate change

There are several aspects of climate change that are affecting odonata populations across the UK. While many of our common species are currently on the rise thanks to warming temperatures, there are other changes that are having a negative impact. These are particularly detrimental to our rarest species.


The report highlights that the following changes will be particularly damaging to our odonata species in the future:

  • Habitat loss and degradation through land drainage
  • Afforestation of bogs
  • Acidification
  • Lack of appropriate habitat management
  • Change in weather patterns causing floods and droughts
  • Use of pesticides, fertilisers, and other pollutants
  • Intensification of agriculture

Much of the work we do across the Forest combats the factors that are worst affected by climate change. We do our bit to create and manage suitable habitats for wildlife, create wetland habitats that reduce flood risks, and follow organic farming practices to name a few!

 

The benefits of warmer weather

Azure dragonflies mating on a leaf
Azure dragonflies
On

Despite the negative effects of climate change, we are seeing some benefits of the warmer weather for odonata species. Because dragonflies and damselflies prefer warmer climates, the rise in British temperatures has led to an increase in different species – generalist species in particular have spread at both a local and national level. 


Warmer temperatures increase survival in flying insects such as dragonflies and damselflies, as well as their prey, thereby increasing their populations. Calm, sunny conditions at the beginning of each species’ flight season improve the chance of the larvae emerging successfully into an adult. Changing water temperatures also influence the rate of larval development by impacting prey availability and feeding activity. 
 

Odonata species on the rise

Our odonata species have also benefitted from a decline in serious pollution incidents of rivers and waterways in England. A decrease in pollution alongside an increase in habitat restoration and creation projects – from landscape-scale wetlands to garden ponds - have played a significant role in encouraging different species across the country.


We have recently completed our very own wetland creation project at Oak Wood. Find out more about this project and the benefits it will bring to wildlife in the Forest. 
 

Aerial shot of Oak wood from above
Wetland creation and enhancement work at Oak Wood

 

Dragonflies in the Forest

Young ruddy darter dragonfly yet to develop its colours at Morgrove Coppice
Young ruddy darter dragonfly yet to develop its colours at Morgrove Coppice

 

Over the last decade, 23 different species of dragonflies and damselflies have been recorded across the Forest – 13 dragonfly species and 10 damselfly species. 


Common dragonfly species recorded in the Forest are:

  • Black-tailed skimmer
  • Broad-bodied chaser
  • Brown hawker
  • Common darter
  • Emperor dragonfly
  • Migrant hawker
  • Ruddy darter
  • Southern hawker


There are also several species that we are particularly thrilled to have recorded around the Forest as they are uncommon or in decline across the UK. The scarce chaser has recently colonised the Avon and is now seen annually at Pilgrim’s Lock by Dorothy’s Wood car park. 

Scarce chaser dragonfly
Scarce chaser dragonfly


The first record in Warwickshire of the rare migrant species, the lesser emperor, was made in the Forest around a decade ago. The common hawker – a locally rare species that is in decline across the UK – has been recorded in the Forest. We are thrilled to be creating habitats that are encouraging even the rarest species of dragonflies.  

 

Damselflies in the Forest

Our Forest land is home to a number of common damselfly species:

  • Azure damselfly
  • Banded demoiselle
  • Beautiful demoiselle
  • Common blue damselfly
  • Red-eyed damselfly
  • White-legged damselfly


We are also home to the large red damselfly as well as the small red-eyed damselfly which has only recently colonised to Warwickshire.


The emerald damselfly is in decline across the UK so we are excited that it has been recorded in at least three different parts of the Spernal area of the Forest. Around the Forest, we have also recorded the blue-tailed damselfly which has declined in England but is present throughout our mosaic of habitats. 
 

Large red damselfly resting on leaf
Large red damselfly

 

Spotting odonata in the Forest

Different dragonfly and damselfly species prefer to inhabit different types of waterways – some prefer still water while others will stay near flowing water. Luckily, we have both of these habitats across the Heart of England Forest. 


Look out for species that prefer flowing water – including the various demoiselle species -around the stream by Morgrove Coppice, the River Arrow at Haydon Way Wood, and at the moorings around Pilgrim’s Lock. For any pond-loving species, be sure to keep an eye out around Colletts Pond in the Dorsington area of the Forest on the Founder’s Walk waymarked route.

 

The future odonata species to look out for

Red-veined darter dragonfly
Red-veined darter dragonfly

 

Due to continuing warming, we can expect to see these species migrating up from the south in the near future and inhabiting areas of the Forest:

  • Hairy dragonfly
  • Red-veined darter
  • Willow emerald damselfly
  • Yellow-winged dragonfly

 

Support our conservation work

We are proud to be creating and conserving a 30,000 acre Forest which includes a mosaic of habitats that will not only benefit wildlife like dragonflies and damselflies, but also people and the environment for generations to come. If you would like to support the valuable work we do, find out how to become a Friend of the Forest from as little as £3 a month.