Spring Meeting 2019 Round Up by Brian Walker, Chairperson

We held our spring meeting in Knutsford Methodist Church on 30th March 2019.  It was well attended and there were plenty of opportunities to meet up with friends and new attendees to discuss dragonfly topics and look forward to the coming season, as well as enjoy a varied selection of talks.

Professor Steve Ormerod (pictured below left) of Cardiff University and Chairman of Buglife started the proceedings with a talk on the problems and possibilities of freshwater invertebrate conservation.  He described some of the research that is going on in this area and drew a number of conclusions from this.  The quality of freshwater habitats in urban areas is improving along with the biodiversity of these areas.  However, it is still below the quality in rural areas in both aspects although this continues to decline.  The reasons for this may be linked to run off from increased use of fertiliser and other chemicals as well as discharges which give rise to increased levels of sediments in rivers and streams.  Species which are generalists seem to be less affected than niche species with the result that biodiversity is decreasing in most areas.

Fiona McKenna, BDS Conservation Outreach Officer gave an update on her newish role after one year in the post.  Her talk was titled 'Spreading the Word' and she asked what first inspired us all to connect with nature, and reminded us that people will only protect what they love. Our job collectively is to spread the word about dragonflies so that everyone can get to know and love them in order to protect them. She also highlighted the progress we have made with establishing Dragonfly Hotspots in England and our plans to use these as centres for outreach activities. She reported that National Trust have decided not to renew our lease on the Dragonfly Centre because they wish to use the building as part of other developments on site.  We are discussing how we can continue to work together on the site.  She asked anyone who is interested in getting involved with outreach activities anywhere in the country to contact her.

The Butterfly Brothers (pictured below right) gave a talk about the wildlife gardens they have created through their business Hazelwood Landscapes.  They gave five case studies of how they had transformed gardens into mini-nature reserves.  These covered sites from a small garden on a housing estate to a much larger plot in a more rural setting.  All of the gardens included a pond, as do the majority of the gardens that they create for clients, and all of the gardens had attracted dragonflies, 17 species in one case, as well as a range of other wildlife with a careful balance of habitats and features.  The pictures showed the gradual progress to maturity and the gradual colonisation by various species as the habitat became suitable.  The talk gave a very good appreciation of what is possible with careful planning and a little effort in a wide range of garden types.

Fiona, Ellie and Daniele, 3/4 of our staff team.


Rungtip Wonglersak (picture above centre) gave a talk about her PhD research work at the Natural History Museum in London.  She is studying the response in terms of body size of British Odonata to latitude and temperature changes.  She has carried out detailed measurements on specimens from known locations to see what changes there might be.  The general expectation for mammals and birds is set out in Bergmann’s Law which says that body size will increase for populations located further north.  Her work has suggested, in contrast, that Damselflies show an effect which is the reverse of this with more northerly populations of a species tending to have a smaller body size, whereas dragonflies show either no change or a small increase in body size with increasing latitude. 

After lunch, Ellie Colver, BDS Conservation Officer, gave an update on her work and particularly on some of our projects and our plans for 2019.  She showed the results of Clubtail Count for 2018 and highlighted the full roll out of the White-legged Damselfly Project in 2019.  We are still monitoring the range expansion of Willow Emerald and she noted the new site for Southern Emerald that was found in 2018.  Already in 2019 there have been a fair number of reports of Vagrant Emperors and it was suggested that these have been associated with winds that have been blowing up from North Africa recently.  It was noted that the recent warm weather had already resulted in some early reports of damselflies.

Dr Huai-Ti Lin, from Imperial College, gave a talk on dragonfly wings.  This was an innovation for us as he was unable to attend in person and gave his talk via an internet connection.  This worked without any technical problems.  There were mixed views as to whether people would have preferred to see the speaker in person but the talk was very informative and it came as a surprise to most in the audience that the wings have a network of neurons to act as sensors rather than being simply passive structures.  The leading edges of a dragonfly’s wings are serrated and we learnt that there is a neuron in the tip of each tooth.  The wings have nodules and bristles on the surface which also include neurons and research is leading to the conclusion that the network of neurons act as sensors help the insect to control the movement of its wings.  Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) analysis has indicated that the bristles tend to be located where airflow may separate from the wings in flight, which tends to reinforce the view that they are acting as sensors. Follow the project on Twitter and Instagram.

The final talk was about the Wrexham Industrial Estate Living Landscape Scheme managed by the North Wales Wildlife Trust.  Adrian Jones (pictured below) told us about the project which provides a good example of what is achievable in the way of landscape scale improvements to habitat in an industrial area.  The aim has been to work with the companies on the estate and others to improve it by creating flower meadows, planting hedges, digging ponds, managing verges and improving connectivity.  The aim has also been to create footpaths and cycle routes for access and improve the well being of those working on the site.  One of the key messages to the businesses on site is that grounds which are neat and tidy are also sterile and most businesses have been very supportive of the project.  Surveys have been carried out to establish the distribution of species on the site and particular efforts have been made to create habitat for the likes of Grizzled Skipper butterflies and Great Crested Newts.  Dragonflies have benefitted for the project and Clubtail Dragonfly has been recorded on the site; the river Dee runs along the southern boundary.