Wroxham & Coltishall

Rare dragonfly spreads its wings

Just Regional
Mar 13, 2024 2 mins read

Reports suggest that the once rare Norfolk Hawker dragonfly has now extended its range, with the species having been spotted as far away as Lancashire, Devon and Sussex.

Thirty years ago the future of the Norfolk Hawker, with its bright green eyes and gingery body, was looking bleak.

Following its extinction from the Cambridgeshire Fens as far back as 1893, the only known breeding sites for this species prior to 2013 were the Broads.

Up until the 1990s it was almost entirely restricted to this area, but from 2001 onwards it started to expand across
Norfolk and Suffolk, later becoming well established in Cambridgeshire, Kent and Herefordshire.

The spread of the Norfolk Hawker continued with two sightings near Wigan in June 2022 – the first in north-west England – and there were indications of a breeding population at the same site.

It has also been seen in Bolton and Blackpool.

There have been multiple sightings and egg-laying in Devon, and also in Dorset, Sussex and other southern counties as recorded in annual surveys by the British Dragonfly Society.

The initial spread in East Anglia was westwards from the Broads and southwards along the coastal marshes of Suffolk.

The population which grew around the southern edge of Norwich was helped by water quality improvements and habitat creation in areas of former gravel pits, such as at Whitlingham Broad.

However, the recent spread and colonisation of Norfolk Hawker in counties beyond Norfolk and Suffolk is most likely due to climate change, with habitat changes also playing a significant role.

As average temperatures have risen, the Hawker has been able to expand its range to both the north and west of its previous limits.

Some of the colonies in southern England could also be made up of incoming Hawkers from continental Europe.

The Norfolk Hawker is still listed as Endangered in the Odonata Red Data List for Great Britain and is protected in law by Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

The spread is important to its survival as many of its original East Anglian breeding sites are vulnerable to sea level rise and salt intrusion, making the species highly susceptible to extinction.

Moving inland has reduced this threat.

PICTURE: Tom Barrett

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