Stark Decline of the Enigmatic Common Clubtail Dragonfly

The results of Clubtail Count 2017 have revealed the ‘Near Threatened’ Common Clubtail is absent on many of the surveyed rivers. However, there was also a ray of hope as the species was spotted for the first time in Devon.

Last year, the British Dragonfly Society asked the general public to come together to help survey the elusive Common Clubtail Dragonfly, the only species of Clubtail Dragonfly to inhabit the UK. Despite its conspicuous bright yellow and black coloration, few people have ever seen this secretive insect, which only breeds on a handful of major rivers in England and Wales. The species is currently listed as Near Threatened in Britain so is a conservation priority; however, until now, very little data was available on its distribution and abundance.

Over the summer of 2017, 110 volunteers scoured 206 km of bankside along major British rivers in search of evidence of breeding Common Clubtail. Their hard work paid off; together they generated 954 records of this elusive species.

Results showed mixed fortunes for the species, which appears to be thriving on the River Severn, from Shropshire to Gloucestershire, and the River Dee in Cheshire. Excitingly, the survey also found the first evidence of Common Clubtail breeding on the River Vyrnwy, across the English/Welsh border. However, the best find was made by a visiting Polish entomologist, Paweł Buczyński, who is now the first person to ever find Common Clubtail in Devon, after spotting it on the River Otter.

Sadly, most of the findings were not good news as the species appears to have suffered catastrophic declines elsewhere. No evidence of breeding Common Clubtail was found on the River Avon, in Worcestershire and Warwickshire, or on the River Kennet, Oxfordshire. In Wales, the Rivers Towy and the River Teifi also failed to produce any Clubtail sightings.

Clubtail Count Project Coordinator, Genevieve Dalley, explains:  "It was truly a mixed bag for this beautiful Dragonfly last year, with worrying declines on some rivers offset by the new finds elsewhere. The important thing now is to keep looking, as we need more data to really understand the changes that are occurring. Now we have launched Clubtail Count 2018, we would love to recruit kayakers and canoeists to reach those difficult stretches of rivers, such as along the Rivers Teifi and Towy. We are really proud of all our volunteers from 2017 for putting so much enthusiasm into this survey. Without their help, the Clubtail's future would be left purely to fate."

For the full report and to find out how to take part in Clubtail Count 2018, visit the Clubtail Count webpage now.

photo: newly emerged Clubtail taken by Clubtail Counter, Dick Eastwood.