Wildlife experts believe they have seen the first signs of a rare species being successfully re-introduced to Delamere Forest
Staff at Cheshire Wildlife Trust are convinced they have seen their first ‘true Delamere’ white-faced darters emerge.
Chris Meredith, Delamere conservation officer at Cheshire Wildlife Trust, said: “Sightings this year are really significant. We know that we have had white-faced darters successfully emerge from our work introducing mature larvae to the site, but this is the first year where we have not introduced new larvae to the pool.
“This means the adults that are emerging this month are either from larvae that were at an earlier stage and have therefore survived for a longer period or are in fact the result of adults breeding successfully at our site.”
Over the last few years an ambitious programme has been under way to re-introduce this rare species to Delamere Forest. The return of the dragonflies comes after several years of dedicated work to reinstate and improve lost habitats at the well-known forest in partnership with the Forestry Commission, along with a carefully planned series of white-faced darter translocations.
As one of the UK’s rarest dragonflies, the white-faced darter had been absent from Cheshire for over a decade and are only found at a handful of locations in England.
The project began in 2013 and involved collecting the tiny vibrant green larvae from healthy populations at the Natural England National Nature Reserve sites of Fenn’s and Whixall Moss in Shropshire and Chartley Moss in Staffordshire.
The larvae of these small blood-red and black insects, a specialist of lowland peatbogs, were introduced to a mossland pool, in Delamere Forest. Studies confirmed the pool had suitable water quality and vegetation to support this species with its submerged sphagnum moss for the nymphs to hide and prosper and the common cotton-grass and soft rush to provide the ideal ladder for emergence.
“We are thrilled with the results of the project so far and although still early days we are very happy that the restoration work started by the Forestry Commission in the 1990s has improved habitats so that they are once again capable of supporting a wide range of species, including the rare white faced darter,” Adrienne Bennett, ecologist at the Forestry Commission said.
The nymphs of the white-faced darter develop and feed underwater for at least two years before emerging and taking to the wing to find a mate and breed so the trust will have to wait a little longer to find out whether Delamere once again has its own self-sustaining population of white-faced darters.
The pool will continue to be monitored regularly through tracking flying adults and also by counting the empty larval cases the dragonflies leave behind on vegetation when emerging from the water.
The white-faced darter reintroduction project is a partnership between Cheshire Wildlife Trust, the Forestry Commission, Natural England, the British Dragonfly Society and Cheshire West and Chester Council, with funding support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Linley Shaw Foundation.
Connecting corridors have been cleared between mossland sites in Delamere Forest to encourage specialist species, including the white-faced darter, to move around the forest.
The long-term hope is that the series of mossland pools that are being restored as part of Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s and the Forestry Commission’s WREN FCC Biodiversity Action Fund funded Delamere’s Lost Mosses Project will encourage this species to expand.
“The creation of several breeding populations is important for the long term sustainability of the white-faced darter in Delamere Forest as their breeding pools will change over time,” explained Chris Meredith.
A dragonfly re-introduction scheme has only been attempted once before in the UK.