Damsels & Dragons 2016

Mark Dinning Community Conservation, News


Summary Report 2016


Of the 40 or so species of dragonfly anddamselfly species known to breed in the UK & Ireland today, approximately 26 have been recorded in the Durham area since records began, though many of these are only the occasional or rare visitor. Since 1945, 3 species that bred in England have become extinct, and many other species are far less common now than they were half a century ago.

DWT were keen to identify which of Durham’s 12 or so more common species are utilising our nature reserves and the wider countryside. Two training workshops were run on damselfly and dragonfly identification and ecology. The first examining adults and habitat requirements, and the second reviewing results and examining exuvia (the cast-off outer skin of a dragonfly/damselfly after a moult) to inform us which species were successfully breeding.

The first workshop was held on June 25th at Rainton Meadows Nature Reserve, Houghton-le-Spring and was followed by a second day on the 17th of September. Local experts supported the volunteers as they learned, with Durham Wildlife Trust coordinating the project, volunteers and experts.


Thirty people undertook the first workshop held at Rainton Meadows. We were joined on this day by recently appointed BDS County Dragonfly Recorder, Ian Waller and Dragonfly Ecologist Dean Heward. The group learned about safe survey technique as well as ID and ecology.

A range of participants were present, the most enthusiastic being 12-year-old Alex who fed banana to a broad-bodied chaser after having a common darter perch on his nose for photo opportunities.

Over July, August and September the volunteers surveyed one location each. This resulted in fourteen sites being surveyed in total across the county. Fourteen different species were recorded as adults. At the second workshop these results were discussed, over one hundred images taken by the volunteers were studied by the group and discussed for ID tips. Collected exuviae were examined and identified. The pick of the bunch being Lesley’s Southern Hawker exuvia. Five species’ exuviae were collected showing how mobile adults are. Not all of the ponds surveyed were suitable to successfully breed dragonflies and damselflies.


The volunteers managed at least two visits to their survey sites in July and two in August. Only two sites were surveyed in September before the second Damsels & Dragons workshop. Rainton Meadows was heavily surveyed by the volunteer for that site.

Map 1. Sites Surveyed by Damsels & Dragons 2016

Table 1: Odonata species recorded by Damsels & Dragons 2016

Common darter was by far the most frequently recorded species as an adult. Its exuvia was recovered from two sites; Rainton Meadows and Colliery Wood Pond. A partial aim of the workshop was to enable volunteers to recognize that odonata species have specific requirements for breeding and that adults can travel many tens of miles from where they first emerged. The fact that common darter were recorded across a lot of sites as adults but only recovered at two as exuvia served as a good demonstration of this. It also highlighted the importance of recently dug ponds to this species. The ponds at which the exuviae were found at Rainton Meadows were just 3 years old. Ruddy darter was picked up in August surveys on only 2 sites, despite numerous records of ruddy darter at both sites no exuviae were found, again highlighting the wide dispersal of this insect.


Chart 1 : Number of different Odonata species recorded by month


Chart 2: Number of surveys undertaken by month


Chart 3: Number of Sites Odonata were recorded at by month

The presence of exuviae across the board was probably under-recorded due to the unfamiliarity of the process to the recorders. This is something that will improve with experience and is a key part to the training.

Map 2 : Sites where exuvia were found

The Damsels & Dragons Project will continue in 2017. Want to get involved? Email: species@durhamwt.co.uk for more details, or click here for 2017 events.

Mark Dinning
Senior Reserves Officer at Durham Wildlife Trust

Mark coordinates our Community Conservation project, offering training and support to volunteers in species surveying. Mark is responsible for developing site management plans for our reserves, based on the findings from our survey work, to guide the practical work delivered by Reserves Officers and volunteers. To register your interest in community conservation please email mdinning@durhamwt.co.uk