Norfolk hawker dragonfly no longer endangered, scientists say

<span>The Norfolk hawker dragonfly has been spotted as far away as Blackpool and south Devon.</span><span>Photograph: Universal Images Group/Getty Images</span>
The Norfolk hawker dragonfly has been spotted as far away as Blackpool and south Devon.Photograph: Universal Images Group/Getty Images

A rare dragonfly is no longer considered endangered after spreading its wings across England, but conservationists have said its wetland habitat is still at risk from climate breakdown.

The Norfolk hawker, known for its bright green eyes and golden body, went extinct from the Cambridgeshire Fens in 1893 and became confined to east Norfolk and east Suffolk. It is thought this was caused by the draining of its preferred habitat of ponds and marshes for agriculture over the centuries. It has since been almost entirely restricted to the Norfolk Broads.

In recent years, however, the dragonfly has been found in Cambridgeshire, Kent and Herefordshire. The populations at these locations have become stable, and scientists have declared that due to its wider population spread and the appearance of strongholds across parts of the country, it is no longer endangered.

The species was spotted near Wigan in June 2022, the first time it had been recorded there. It has also been recorded in Bolton and Blackpool, as well as south Devon, Dorset and Sussex. The British Dragonfly Society (BDS) said the hawker was expected to be removed from the British red list of the most endangered species due to its recent population expansion.

Habitat improvements have been credited with the dragonfly’s spread. Better water quality and the creation of new habitats in former gravel pits around Norwich caused the dragonfly to thrive in those areas.

The BDS has said climate breakdown may have contributed to its expansion beyond Norfolk and Suffolk, with warmer temperatures causing it to go north and west of its previous limits.

Scientists are concerned that the dragonfly may go extinct in East Anglia because its breeding sites will be lost to the sea if levels rise. The new colonies are farther inland and do not face such risks.

Dr Pam Taylor, the convener of the BDS dragonfly conservation group, said: “Although the hawker’s overall range has expanded greatly, there are still huge gaps in its current distribution. It will need to infill many of these gaps before the species is truly secure in this country and only time will tell whether it will succeed.”

The dragonfly conservationists said other species were declining because of climate breakdown. The State of Dragonflies in Britain and Ireland 2021 report showed that upland and heathland species had faced the most noticeable declines, particularly in England, and the climate crisis was believed to be the main cause.

As drought became more prevalent, the pools and small streams in which many dragonflies bred were expected to dry up. For example, the small red damselfly disappeared from Scarning Fen, in Norfolk, last year after the record-breaking hot summer of 2022.

Andrea Kelly, a Broads Authority environment policy adviser, said: “What appears to be good news about the spread of the Norfolk hawker, and its potential relisting as no longer endangered, is in fact a call to action about the significant threats to its precious wetland habitat. The only way to ensure no further species loss is to continue to protect and restore its current wetland and fen habitats in the broads and across East Anglia.”