Wildlife experts are celebrating a successful second season of a ground-breaking project aiming to return one of Britain’s rarest dragonflies to the skies above Delamere Forest.
Cheshire Wildlife Trust have been working in partnership with the Forestry Commission to translocate rare white-faced darter dragonflies from sites in neighbouring counties Shropshire and Staffordshire to former haunts in the popular forest.
The tiny blood-red and black insects – now only found in a handful of locations in the North West and Scotland – were last seen flying in the wild in Cheshire more than a decade ago.
This new strategy, which could mark the beginning of the white-faced darter’s comeback in Delamere, has only been used once before in the peat bogs of Cumbria, with the reintroduction scheme only the third ever attempted for a dragonfly or damselfly anywhere in the country.
After 100 white-faced darter larvae were transported to Doolittle Pool a few weeks ago, teams from the Wildlife Trust have now reported seeing the crucial ‘emergence’ stage, where the dragonflies leave the safety of the water and take to the air as adults.
The plan over the coming years will be to continue this annual translocation each summer, in the hope that adult dragonflies will then mate and help to develop a sustainable long-term white-faced darter population once again in Cheshire.
The scheme, part-funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, has been backed by extensive habitat management works led by Delamere Forest’s manager – the Forestry Commission – which has been helping to restore habitats to suit the dragonflies, including removing trees that had previously shaded out the open pools that the rare insects require.
Research has also shown that white-faced darters require clear flyways between breeding pools, and the long-term hope is that habitats in the forest may be adapted to allow the dragonflies to expand into additional areas.
Dr Vicky Nall, who is leading Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s reintroduction project, said: “This is always a tense time of year as we await the first tentative emergence of the white-faced darters, and begin the painstaking process of counting the dried larval cases they leave behind as they take to the skies for their maiden flight.”
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.