20 Mar
New ‘super’ National Nature Reserve is super news for Southern Damselflies

New ‘super’ National Nature Reserve is super news for Southern Damselflies

Hartland Moor, a key site for Southern Damselflies in Dorset, is set to become part of the new Purbeck Heaths National Nature Reserve.

The small, delicate Southern Damselfly (Coenagrion mercuriale) is the UK’s only legally protected species of Damselfly. The larvae of this species are only found in shallow unpolluted alkaline streams, a habitat that has become increasingly rare as a result of urban sprawl and agricultural intensification. Adult Southern Damselflies are also poor fliers, making it hard for them to disperse to new breeding grounds. Thus, sadly the species is now limited to a scattering of wetland sites in England and Wales.

Purbeck, Dorset, contains a number of surviving Southern Damselfly sites, carefully tended by organisations such as The Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust. The strongest breeding site is currently situated on Hartland Moor, owned by the National Trust.

On 17 March 2020 it was announced that Hartland Moor will merge with two neighbouring National Nature Reserves (NNRs), Stoborough Heath, and Studland and Godlingston Heath, to form the core of a new Purbeck Heaths NNR. Land managers involved in the seven-way partnership include: the RSPB, National Trust, Natural England, Forestry England, Rempstone Estate, Dorset Wildlife Trust and The Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust. The partnership hopes that by managing their individual sites as a single reserve and coordinating their work, they will be able to improve the health of endangered species populations within the landscape of Purbeck.

In the case of the Southern Damselfly this includes continuous habitat management, with the use of grazing animals, on Hartland Moor to safeguard the existing population. There are also habitat restoration activities being carried out on the neighbouring Stoborough Heath site, partly funded by a D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust grant secured by the British Dragonfly Society (BDS). In the next few years the BDS hopes to see the Southern Damselflies of the old Hartland Moor NNR dispersing out and breeding in new waterways within the Purbeck Heaths, bolstering the population.

This is an exciting new chapter for Purbeck and its wildlife” says Eleanor Colver (BDS Conservation Officer). “Its lowland heaths are home to many rare and wonderful species, including the Southern Damselfly, who will all benefit from the new designation. The Purbeck Heath partnership are leading the way, illustrating what can be achieved when land managers and conservation bodies work together with the common goal of safeguarding wildlife. We look forward to continuing our work with them, and seeing the results of this ambitious project.

Find out more about the BDS’s work in Purbeck here.

Image by Dave Smallshire