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Rare willow emerald damselflies spotted in Clissold Park in Hackney

Wednesday 30th November 2016

Willow emerald damselfly by Adrian ParrWillow emerald damselfly © Adrian Parr

Damselflies, like dragonflies, are large, colourful insects that flourish around clean ponds, lakes and rivers. These harmless insects often sport dazzling colours, such as the beautiful metallic green sheen of the rare willow emerald damselfly.

As a Hackney resident it’s so exciting to discover a species that has never been seen here before...

The willow emerald damselfly is a recent arrival to England, with limited sightings recorded across the South East - and only a few previous sightings in the outskirts of London. This is the first time they have been recorded within Inner London. 

Surveyors working with London Wildlife Trust’s Water for Wildlife project spotted a pair of willow emerald damselflies whilst looking for dragonflies and damselflies in Clissold Park, Hackney, in late September. By tracking such insects the project is mapping out the health of London’s freshwater ecosystems.

Research volunteer Sonja Todd spotted the male and female willow emerald damselfly in reeds growing in the New River in the park. Having mated, the female will lay her eggs into the bark of a waterside willow. On hatching, the larvae will then drop into the water below to spend their lives as predatory, underwater larvae, dependent on a good supply of aquatic insects to feed on. In the spring they then emerge as adult damselflies.

Willow emerald damselflies in Clissold ParkDragonflies and damselflies can be very sensitive to poor water conditions, so their presence at the New River in Clissold Park is an indicator of a healthy environment.

Sonja said: “As a Hackney resident it’s so exciting to discover a species that has never been seen here before. I was pretty sure we’d found willow emerald damselfly but we wanted to be sure so we double-checked with experts from the Natural History Museum and the British Dragonfly Society, and both agreed this was a new species for Hackney.”

Cllr Feryal Demirci, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods, Transport and Parks, said: “It is great to see biodiversity flourishing in Hackney. The borough’s green spaces and parks offer an oasis to wildlife in the bustle of inner-city London, such as the willow emerald damselfly, which has never been seen in Inner London before.”

Adrian Parr of the British Dragonfly Society said: “The willow emerald damselfly first appeared in Britain near Felixstowe in Suffolk, less than a decade ago. It's encouraging to see that it has colonised successfully, and is starting to expand its range. It's a species that does well in mad-made habitats where trees or shrubs border still or slow-flowing water, and it is well worth being on the lookout for further colonies next year.”

Stephen Brooks of the Natural History Museum said: “The willow emerald damselfly is spreading naturally through Britain in response to climate warming and this discovery shows the value of trained volunteers surveying London's wetlands.”

More information

The Water for Wildlife project is focused on the capital’s freshwater habitats - discovering what's living in them, and encouraging more wildlife to do so. The project works with volunteers across London, surveying and undertaking practical conservation work. The project is funded by Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Thames Water. To find out more see www.wildlondon.org.uk/water-for-wildlife

The British Dragonfly Society (BDS) promotes and encourages the study and conservation of dragonflies and their natural habitats and runs the national dragonfly recording scheme: Dragonflywatch. Dragonflies are undergoing a period of unprecedented change and their wetland homes are under serious threat.

The BDS welcomes news of any sightings of damselflies and dragonflies. Our Willow Emerald Watch project follows the exciting spread of the willow emerald damselfly in the UK. For an ID guide to the UK emerald damselfly species, information on the project so far and to get involved, visit: www.british-dragonflies.org.uk/

Main banner image of willow emerald damselfly by Adrian Parr