Norfolk Wildlife Trust's Upton Fen: Land of the dragons

A Norfolk Hawker dragonfly

A Norfolk hawker dragonfly - Credit: Ann Kerridge

Norfolk Wildlife Trust Reserves Officer Robert Morgan on Norfolk's beautiful dragonflys

I am sure that, along with butterflies, even the most casual of observers would recognise a dragonfly. They are comparatively large, multi-coloured and with a certain swagger and assertiveness in flight that comes from being a top insect predator.

They can fly at astonishing speeds – up to 36km an hour – and move their wings approximately 30 times a second. They can hover, fly backwards and their compound eyes allow them to see in all directions at once, and in colour.

A Norfolk hawker

A Norfolk hawker - Credit: Andrew Barrett

Despite looking quite formidable, dragonflies are harmless to humans: they don’t sting and rarely bite even when handled, and along with damselflies they form a bright, varied and fascinating collection of insects called Odonata. Here in Norfolk we have at least 20 regularly recorded species and we even have one named after the county.

The Norfolk hawker dragonfly is a nationally rare dragonfly, classified as endangered and fully protected by law. Its clear wings, green eyes and the characteristic yellow triangle shape on the dragonfly’s body make Norfolk’s dragonfly very distinctive.

Upton Broad

Upton Broad - Credit: Richard Osbourne

In late May and June mature dragonfly larvae (approximately two years old) climb out of the water onto an aquatic plant at night, where they emerge from their skin as adult dragonflies. Newly-emerged hawker dragonflies wait till early morning to fly off to wooded areas to feed.

Upton trail viewpoint

Upton trail viewpoint - Credit: Lucy Denman

A great place to explore and discover dragonflies is Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Upton Fen and Marshes, as it has an impressive number of species. This nature reserve is beautiful and tranquil, with the landscape containing a good mix of habitats – alder carr, willow scrub, fen, reedbed, and grazing marsh – supporting 10 nationally scarce plant species including fen orchid, marsh fern, marsh pea and cowbane. These varied habitats ensure a good mixture of birdlife too.

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Take action at home

Of course you don’t have to travel to see dragonflies. It can be quite easy to attract them to your garden as they need to lay eggs in water to complete their life-cycle.

Providing a small pond or even sinking a bowl into a sunny corner of the lawn may attract species such as southern hawker and common blue damselfly. The large and impressive emperor dragonfly is a pioneering species and is often quick to colonise a new garden pond.

The Norfolk Wildlife Trust is celebrating 95 years in 2021

The Norfolk Wildlife Trust is celebrating 95 years in 2021 - Credit: NWT

Here are some tips on creating your own dragonfly pond:

  • Always stock it with native pond plants and provide some emergent species such as flag iris, for the nymphs to climb up when it is time for them to emerge as dragonflies.
  • Cover the bottom of the pond with clean gravel, you may want to place some flat stones nearby for the dragonflies to bask on.
  • If the pond requires topping up always fill with rainwater, perhaps start collecting it in a water butt.
  • As with most invertebrates, they do best in ponds without large fish. Although, stickleback will be fine in a small garden pond, the ferocious appetite of the growing dragonfly larva will keep their numbers in check.

For more information on nature in Norfolk, see www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk