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Southern damselflies released into Devon nature reserve

26/06/2009 16:33:18

The rare Southern Damselfly - Credit Ian Chadwick.

Rare insect reintroduced to Devon heath
June 2009. Devon Wildlife Trust has staged the mass reintroduction of a globally threatened species into one of its reserves. Over the past week, 500 southern damselflies have been released at Venn Ottery Nature Reserve in East Devon.

30% decline in UK
The small iridescent blue insects are found at just five sites in Devon and the species has suffered a 30% decline in the UK since 1960. The dragonflies were transferred from Beaulieu Heath in the New Forest to the 25 hectare Devon Wildlife Trust SSSI using butterfly rearing cages. The insects were moved over the course of four days and were released successfully on to a 400 metre stretch of water course.

The project was the brainchild of David Thompson, Professor of Conservation Biology at Liverpool University's School of Biological Sciences. The reintroduction represents the first for the species. Prof Thompson said: ‘Southern Damselflies are a very localised species and they find it very difficult to disperse to other sites, so reintroductions of this kind are essential to help secure the future of the species. The work was carried out under license from Natural England and was funded by the British Dragonfly Society.'

The last time the insect had been recorded at Venn Ottery was in 1988. Its decline was thought to be due to the lack of grazing at the time and a change in water levels caused by the digging of drainage ditches.

Much work has been done to get the site ready for the reintroduction. Grazing was introduced, scrub levels have been reduced dramatically and a grant of £11,000 by the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF) via Natural England helped complete the installation of small dams which slow the movement of water through the site. In the future it will be essential that close management is maintained to provide optimum conditions for the damselflies to continue to thrive.

95% of lifecycle spent as a larva
DWT's Nature Reserves Officer Ian Chadwick said: ‘Over 95% of the southern damselfly's two-year lifecycle is spent as a larva living in submerged stream vegetation. A permanent supply of unpolluted, slow moving running water is essential for their survival. This work has enabled us to create the right conditions for the reintroduction and we are confident that it will succeed. We are excited to see these amazing little insects arrive and it wouldn't have been possible without the commitment of Professor Thompson.'

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