Getting close to dragonflies on the South Downs

Emperor Dragonfly

The sight of a dragonfly or damselfly – shimmering bodies and wings flashing in the sun as they race over water – is one of summer’s great pleasures. But numbers are declining, and we need hands-on help to protect these beautiful insects.

We’re making new dragonfly homes

These beautiful insects may not be as familiar as they once were, but it’s not too late.

Our teams of rangers and volunteers are working hard to reverse their decline, by monitoring colonies and caring for the habitats they live in.

They are also creating new dragonfly and damselfly habitats. At Lavington Common, our heathland ‘scrapes’ of shallow water are visited by acid-loving species like the golden ringed dragonfly.

New ponds at Sissinghurst Castle Garden welcome the scarce emerald, and at Black Down rangers have cleared trees from a pond to increase light levels and pond-side vegetation. 

The South Downs Dragonfly League

There’s some friendly competition too in the South Downs Dragonfly League.

The league was set up by Trust volunteer and dragonfly expert John Luck, and currently operates in Kent, Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire.

Volunteers train for the South Downs Dragonfly League
Volunteers practice their dragonfly spotting skills
Volunteers train for the South Downs Dragonfly League

John trains staff and volunteers in dragonfly identification, and we’ve now got over 30 teams competing for the top spots in the League’s table.  

Rare jewel in the crown

There are bonus points for the rarest finds. One of the rangers looking after the countryside around Winchelsea has spotted a rare find for Sussex - classed as a 'mega-rarity' it gets the team 6 points. 

During the annual London and South East Dragonfly Day one dragonfly particularly stood out to him and he managed to get a photo of it. Back at the office with the image on the screen he realised it could only be one thing - a southern migrant hawker. It soon became clear that this was a rare sighting; only one male has ever been seen before in East Sussex.

Breeding activity has since been seen so this has to potential to be the first breeding population in Sussex.

The beautiful blue of a Southern Migrant Hawker dragonfly
A beautiful blue Southern Migrant Hawker dragonfly sitting on a reed
The beautiful blue of a Southern Migrant Hawker dragonfly

Helping wildlife on the South Downs

Our dragonfly work is part of a wider vision to develop a network of high-quality habitats across the western South Downs. They would support a rich variety of wildlife and enhance these nationally important lowland landscapes, their heritage and beauty. 

‘The western South Downs has an amazing variety of wildlife, but much of it is in decline. Habitats have been lost, fragmented, or degraded over the years,’ says National Trust wildlife adviser Crispin Scott.  

‘Projects like the Dragonfly League are a fantastic way for our staff and volunteers to develop the necessary skills and expertise to help us monitor and improve the health of our wildlife and protect precious landscapes like the South Downs.’ 


Helping our dragonflies

National Trust ranger Fiona Scully reveals how the Dragonfly League is helping these endangered insects.

Where to spot dragonflies

Summer months are the best time to spot these exotic creatures. Although often found close to water, you’ll see them in all sorts of other places too, from woodlands to gardens, even in the centre of cities. 

Dragonflies and damselflies (known as Odonata) prefer warm sunny days when there’s little wind. If you’re hoping to catch them on camera, try visiting a pond or river that’s fringed with plants: they like to rest on stems and leaves, whilst thicker branches serve as lookout perches.  

You could also create a pond in your garden, or become a National Trust volunteer and help us to record them for the Dragonfly League.