Fear for dragonflies prompts survey of British population

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A NATIONWIDE survey of dragonflies is being launched this week amid concerns that a third of British species are under threat.

The winged insects have "survived the extinction of the dinosaurs and several ice ages", but are now threatened by habitat destruction and climate change, the British Dragonfly Society warned.

The society has collected data showing that 36 per cent of the 39 dragonfly species in the UK are in decline. Now it is launching a five-year "Dragonflies in Focus" project which aims to produce a new atlas giving a snapshot of the current locations of Britain's dragonflies.

The BDS said the atlas will be used as a baseline against which changes can be mapped, and be used to monitor endangered species and make conservation decisions. According to the society, dragonflies could be under threat from pollution, habitat loss, competition or climate change – with the majority of species appearing to be on the move.

Dragonflies are increasingly heading to Britain from Europe and even North America. When the last atlas was published in 1996, the small red-eyed damselfly had never been seen in the UK, but it now has breeding colonies from Devon to Norfolk and is still spreading.

The azure hawker, northern damselfly, southern damselfly and Norfolk hawker are among the species that are under threat. One of the dangers to the insects, which eat large quantities of mosquitoes and midges, are the introduction of non-native fish to ponds and lakes.

These new species of fish feed on dragonfly larvae, which spend up to a year growing under water.

BDS conservation officer Katharine Parkes said: "They have survived the extinction of the dinosaurs and several ice ages, but can dragonflies survive the increasing pressures imposed by mankind?

"Understanding where and how quickly our dragonflies are moving will help us plan for the future, with particular regard to the way in which conservation is carried out – it will be very important to make sure we are providing our wildlife with the best opportunities."

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