Thursday 15 December 2022

Aerodome of the Dragon

Of all the UK airports, could Gatwick be the one with the highest diversity of Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies)? I imagine strong contenders might be London Ashford Airport (Lydd) in Kent, or even Heathrow Airport in Surrey... I am boldly throwing down the gauntlet to those who wish to challenge us for the dragon throne. If you are a naturalist who has been observing dragonflies on or near other airports, let us know in the comments of this blogpost!

Willow Emerald Damselfly Chalcolestes viridis

Facing a warming climate, many dragonfly and damselfly species are changing their geographic range, with new species moving further inland from warmer coastal areas and others arriving from the continent. So far, we have recorded 23 different species of around our land-locked, but low-lying and pretty wet airport. That is six fewer than the best-performing Sussex Wildlife Trust nature reserve Rye Harbour (29 species). The nearby Knepp Wildlands site hit 23 species in around 2019, but they have surely passed that total now.  

Bob Foreman from the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre kindly provided me with the top ten league table for Sussex Wildlife Trust reserves. As you can see, we might be on par with the Ebernoe reserve for the moment:

1. Rye Harbour                       29
2. Burton Mill Pond                25
3. Woods Mill                         25
4. Iping Common                    24
5. Old Lodge                           24
6. Ebernoe                               23
7. Amberley Wildbrooks          22
8. Peveensey Levels                19
9. Filsham Reedbed                19
10. Waltham Brooks                 17

This summer just past I was repeating a baseline survey of all the waterways previously surveyed around Gatwick during 2013. We have gained a few new ponds since that last baseline, so I was really looking forward to getting stuck in and seeing how fortunes may have changed for our dragons. Results were a bit of a mixed bag, with only 20 different species observed (I was missing Ruddy Darter Sympetrum sanguineum, Golden-ringed Dragonfly Cordulegaster boltonii and Red-eyed Damselfly Erythromma najas). The only new record for the site has been Small Red-eyed Damselfly, and nothing particularly rare or unusual turned up except for a tantalising glimpse of Brilliant Emerald Dragonfly Somatochlora metallica (although there were plenty of similar-looking Downy Emerald Dragonflies about).

Here are a few of my highlights from the 2022 field season:

Downy Emerald Dragonfly Cordulia aenea

White-legged Damselfly Platycnemis pennipes

Four-spotted Chaser Libellula quadrimaculata

Small Red-eyed Damselfly Erythromma viridulum

Black-tailed Skimmer Orthetrum cancellatum

Broad-bodied Chaser Libellula depressa looking the worse for wear

Our Top 3 performing waterbodies during 2022:

The upstream section of the River Mole (16 species)

Land East Pond 2 (the Brilliant and Downy Emerald pond) 13 species

The northern bank of Pond F, the reservoir at the South Terminal (11 species)

Gatwick's current dragonfly list:

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