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21 Dec 2023

Rare dragonflies discovered at Mar Lodge Estate

Written by Paul Williams
Black dragonfly on a grey wooden panel
Azure hawker dragonfly | Image: G Rennie/British Dragonfly Society
Two rare dragonfly species have been recorded at Mar Lodge Estate in the Cairngorms National Park, ahead of the next phase of peatland restoration starting on the nature reserve.

Invertebrate specialists doing survey work for the Trust at Mar Lodge Estate, the UK’s largest National Nature Reserve (NNR), have spotted the brightly coloured azure hawker dragonfly and the iridescent northern emerald dragonfly, listed as vulnerable and near threatened respectively in the British Odonata List 2008. The rare dragonflies were recorded during baseline monitoring undertaken in advance of peatland restoration work starting on the Deeside estate this winter.

The sightings of the dragonfly species, usually seen whizzing over boggy moorlands in the north and west of Scotland, are part of a wider discovery of species at Mar Lodge, with an amazing 72 invertebrate and 44 spider species found. Among these, 41 invertebrate species were identified on the NNR for the first time, of which eight are nationally scarce. Also recorded for the first time were 36 types of spider, with five nationally scarce tiny money spiders making up part of this cohort, raising the total number of species recorded to date on Mar Lodge Estate to 5,260.

An iridescent green and yellow dragonfly balancing on grass stalks emerging from a bog.
The iridescent northern emerald dragonfly discovered at Mar Lodge for the first time | Image: D Muir/British Dragonfly Society

Shaila Rao, Conservation Manager at Mar Lodge Estate, said: ‘We’re thrilled to find these rare species of dragonfly at Mar Lodge, only the first and second time, respectively, they have been recorded in Deeside, and we’re excited to discover an abundance of new species alongside them, including five nationally scarce tiny money spiders that have set up home on the estate. It’s a really special moment for us and we are very excited to see how the species will respond to the peatland restoration work carried out this autumn.’

‘After three years of restoration work by the National Trust for Scotland, we’ve restored nearly 250 hectares of peatland; that’s equivalent in size to roughly 350 football pitches, which demonstrates the scale of our achievements so far. We are keen to observe how the restored peatland is affecting the biodiversity of the nature reserve and undertook our baseline monitoring to produce data that will be used as a benchmark to measure how the interventions we are taking to restore degraded peatland has on the nature and wildlife going forward.

‘Many of these invertebrate species are threatened from drainage and erosion of the peatland, a habitat so important for biodiversity and carbon storage to help in our fight against climate change, so it’s a real boost for all of us at the National Trust for Scotland to see so many different species during our monitoring work and is a good sign that our efforts are having a positive effect on the area. With the peatland rewetted, the plants restored and an abundance of new bog pools reinstated, the future for our invertebrates looks a lot brighter. These insects are the engine house of the peatland food chain, so we expect this to have knock-on benefits to other species who call this peatland habitat home, such as dunlin and golden plover.

‘This work is made possible thanks to the help of Peatland Action funding and support from the Cairngorms National Park Authority alongside funds raised by our members and supporters. This support allows us to carry out this vital work to restore this important natural asset and continue towards our goal of being carbon negative by 2031.’

This work supports our vision to care for, share and protect Scotland’s nature, beauty and heritage for everyone to enjoy, as outlined in our 10-year strategy, launched in 2022. This works helps the Trust to deliver our conservation objectives to improve the condition of our estate, enable nature to flourish and enrich Scotland’s protected heritage.

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