Looking out for dragonflies

How many dragonflies have you spotted lately? Along with their damselfly cousins, these prehistoric mini-beasts have hovered the Earth for 250 million years, but now they’re becoming a less familiar sight. To help protect them and conserve wetland habitats, we’ve challenged some of our keen-eyed nature lovers to compete in our Dragonfly League.

Nature needs our help

With shimmering bodies flashing in the sun, dragonflies can fly sideways and even backwards on fast, agile wings. Their powerful eyes see ultraviolet light so they can easily spot prey and snatch meals on the go. 

But despite being ace flyers and expert hunters, dragonfly numbers are falling across the UK. It’s a sign their wetland homes aren’t as healthy as they once were, with pollution and climate change taking its toll. 

To protect these magnificent minibeasts and the creatures that share their habitats, we’ve created a Dragonfly League at some of the places we look after in South East England. We’re challenging our gardeners, rangers and volunteers to spot as many dragonfly species as possible. 

Lots of different species indicate healthier ecosystems. So as well as keeping an eye on dragonfly numbers, it’s helping us understand how to improve wetlands and encourage more wildlife to move in.

Emperor Dragonfly
Emperor Dragonfly
Emperor Dragonfly

How our Dragonfly League works

A bit like a football league, teams at different places compete for top spots in the table. The more species they spy, the more points they score. They’ll notch up extra points for rare species like the metallic green Willow Emerald damselfly, or the Norfolk Hawker with its green eyes and orange-brown body.

It means our resident nature lovers are always on the lookout for elusive species that will get them to the top of the table by the end of the season.

We’ll be upping our game this summer at places like Batemans, Morden Hall Park, Petworth Park, Scotney Castle, Winchelsea and other spots in the South Downs and Surrey Hills.

Join our Dragonfly League and aim for the top spot
Family on the wooden footbridge at Box Hill, Surrey.
Join our Dragonfly League and aim for the top spot

Feeling inspired to do your bit?

Why not set up your own Dragonfly League and compete with members of your family?  You don’t have to be an expert – anyone can take part, and even the youngest wildlife fans can help out. Just take a snap of your dragonfly or damselfly and see if you can identify it online. Don’t forget to give yourself extra points if you’re lucky enough to spot a rare species.

Summer months are the best time to spot these exotic insects. They’re out in force from mid-May to August, although you might see some as late as October. 

Pick a warm, sunny day when there’s no wind and explore near a pond, lake, river or nature reserve. To get a clear photo, try peaceful spots fringed with plants: they like to perch on stems and leaves.

Volunteer with us to give wildlife a hand

If you’d like to support all kinds of wildlife, how about volunteering at a place near you?   Whether you want to plant trees, clear unwanted scrub, survey wildlife or help us manage wildlife records, we’re always looking for people of all ages and abilities to get involved. Contact your local property to find out more.

The azure blue damselfly is sometimes spotted by garden ponds
Azure blue damselfly resting on green leaf
The azure blue damselfly is sometimes spotted by garden ponds

What's the difference between a dragonfly and a damselfly?

  • Dragonflies look quite similar to their smaller cousins, but they are usually bigger and stronger with larger eyes.
  • One way to tell the difference is to look at their wings. Damselflies have four wings that are all almost the same length, while the back wings of drangonflies are usually shorter and wider.
  • Resting dragonflies hold their wings out at right angles, while damselflies rest theirs along the length of their bodies. 

Adapted from the article that was first published in the summer 2017 magazine.

Hovering dragonfly

Dragonflies and damselflies 

Which of the eight species will you spot?