As the climate crisis takes hold, a host of new species of insects – including butterflies, moths, dragonflies and damselflies – are crossing the Channel from continental Europe to southern Britain.
Some, like a verdant trio of damselflies – scarce, southern and willow emeralds – along with the long-tailed blue butterfly, are newcomers to our shores. Others, such as the large tortoiseshell butterfly, which was recorded breeding at the Knepp estate in West Sussex this summer, are returning to the UK after a long absence.
The same applies to the dainty damselfly, which became extinct in the UK after the east coast floods of 1953, but has now returned to breed at several sites in east Kent.
Damselflies, and their larger and more spectacular looking cousins, dragonflies, are especially responsive to climate change, and are rapidly taking advantage of the trend towards warmer, drier summers to extend their ranges northwards. Two very rare species, the lesser and vagrant emperors, are turning up more frequently; this summer the lesser emperor – unknown in Britain until the mid-1990s – was found breeding at several locations.
But while these sightings may be exciting for entomologists, more northerly insects, adapted to live in cooler climates, may now be struggling. In Scotland, the azure hawker and northern emerald could soon be under threat as rising temperatures attract competing species from the south.