Chris Packham goes in search of dragonflies and damselflies.
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This is Wicken Fen Nature Reserve in Cambridgeshire.
It's a brilliant place, it's somewhere you should come.
More than 200 different species of birds have been seen here,
25 different types of mammal live here,
19 species of dragonfly, and, get this, 1,000 different types of moth.
Wicken Fen was THE first nature reserve to be bought by the National Trust,
way back in 1899.
The 1,500-acre site is a tiny remnant of the watery wilderness
that once characterised the whole of East Anglia.
Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to explore these rivers, or loads,
as this channel is called, is on one of these Fenland longboats.
You can just gaze down into the clear waters here and literally look into a different world.
The water supports an abundance of wildlife,
but I'm looking for one thing in particular - the aerial master of the insect world.
Now, to find these creatures, like most wildlife,
one of the best things you can do is to look for the right habitat.
-Rory Mackenzie Dodds, you've been looking for the right habitat for a long time...
-..and know it.
-What do you make of this?
-It's absolutely brilliant, Chris.
It's a lovely, lovely site here.
You've got the three key sorts of plants which are attractive,
you've got lots of oxygenators in the water, which keep the water nice and clear,
-and then you've got the surface coverers, like white water lilies...
-Looking very nice.
..and then above those you've got these tall, stemmed plants.
These are the three key groups which are really attractive habitat.
-Right! OK, yes, absolutely.
It's the star of our show - a dragonfly. Look at that.
This is the stunning Emperor dragonfly,
the largest of a family that's been around for 300 million years, much longer than us humans.
This one is a brown hawker.
It's decided it's a perfect place for a female brown hawker to lay her eggs,
so it is guarding this territory, waiting for a female to come along.
When that happens, he will mate with her, and she will be ready to lay her eggs along both sides of the pond.
-There is a damselfly down here. Two!
This pair of damselflies are laying their eggs,
with the male holding onto the female to ensure that no other males muscle in.
The egg hatches into a nymph,
which lives underwater for around three years -
hence the importance of those oxygenating plants -
before it emerges from the water and sheds its skin to transform into the adult dragonfly.
This is the dried-out skin of the last aquatic stage of this dragonfly,
and here is the adult insect that has emerged from it.
At the moment, it is pumping its wings full of fluid,
and in the process of drying out.
But just over here is another one that is a few hours ahead of it.
Shortly, it will be taking to the wing and starting its process of looking for a mate.
-Look, a four-spotted chaser.
-That is. They're unmistakable.
What you need to look out for is the four little spots in the middle of each wing.
-How many species here? Five or six?
-Five or six, just dragonflies, yes.
And there's actually three or four down here.
There are three of four types of damselfly too.
And how do you tell the difference between damsels and dragons?
Effectively damselflies are smaller and more delicate, but there is a trick, Chris, which is
when you see them land, if they park their wings along their backs...
-Folded behind, exactly.
..the chances are that it is an damselfly.
If the lay them out flat, like an normal aeroplane, it is a dragonfly.
-This is dragonfly heaven, isn't it?
-It is absolutely perfect.
-And yet we're not even on the the reserve.
-This is just a pond-dipping area for kids.
-And they've created a perfect heaven for dragonflies.
These insects need sunshine to heat up their bodies in order to fly.
They use their wings as solar panels.
Now then, what have these children found in a nearby pond?
-Hello there, James.
-What have you got, then?
So far, I've got a great crested newt. I think it's a female.
It certainly is. What a fantastic animal.
-Beautiful. Have you seen its belly?
Lovely and marbled and black underneath. It is a female - it's a bit bigger than the male.
'The great crested is the largest newt found in Britain, and can live up to 27 years.
'But it is endangered, so you need a licence to handle it.'
What a fantastic animal. It just goes to prove what a wealth of wildlife there is here at Wicken.
Now, here's a little tip.
Dragonflies often return to the same perching spot,
so if you're patient and keep still...
This common dart has been landing on this stick in front of me for some time,
so I thought I'd stick my finger out and see if he'd choose my finger instead of the stick.
And it's given me the best views of a dragonfly I've had all day.
Let's see if he does it one more time.
Just look at that.
Oh, it's like having a pet.
He goes off for a little fly, chases another dragonfly, and then he's back to my hand.
It's like falconing, but with dragonflies.
Look at that!
What a stunning creature.
Now, this habitat may look perfectly natural to you, but I'm afraid it isn't.
It's been managed by man for centuries.
One of the principal uses of an area like this was to cut the sedge for thatch.
Well, these days that's largely redundant,
and if we were to leave this area, it would rapidly become woodland.
It'd be a disaster - we want wetland here - so they've come up with a new way of managing the vegetation.
I say new, but, in fact, it was happening thousands of years ago,
when bison and wolves and bears were roaming this land.
These stunning-looking animals are konik ponies.
They are one of the closest relatives to the primal ponies that roamed over Europe.
And the warden, Carol Laidlaw, knows more about these herds than most.
We've got them here because they're wetland specialists. They're so hardy, and have a placid temperament.
You need an animal that is not going to be aggressive or bolshy.
-Just a bit curious.
-Just a bit curious, yes.
They're no respecters of body space, as you can see.
-But they are here to graze the site?
-In a traditional fashion.
The National Trust has a huge expansion project on that is going to last the next hundred years,
and it is going to become unsustainable to buy machinery and people to manage the land,
so the best way to do it is to get these guys out to act as natural wardens.
-They're out 365 days of the year.
-365 days of the year, yep. Rain or shine.
Rain or shine...
Beautiful as these animals are, Karen has one important tip for visitors.
The general advice is, if you want to come and see these horses, um, use binoculars and watch them from afar.
Don't approach them - these are wild animals and they're not predictable.
-They're quite curious today, and they're behaving themselves.
-Let's hope they prosper.
The National Trust plans to expand this fen over the next hundred years
until it's 17 miles long, stretching all the way down towards Cambridge.
What a thought that is.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd - 2006
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