Prees Heath Report December 2017 to January 2018
2018 – and a Happy New Year to everyone, if it’s not too late – is Butterfly Conservation’s 50th anniversary. Founded in 1968, one of its first Presidents was Sir Peter Scott, son of Scott of Antartica and a wildlife conservation pioneer, and its current President is Sir David Attenborough. Prees Heath Common Reserve was purchased by Butterfly Conservation in 2006 as it provides the last remaining sanctuary for the Silver-studded Blue in the Midlands, and, as a lowland heath, it hosts a number of rare or uncommon species, mainly becauseso much lowland heath has been destroyed.
Before Christmas in December the reserve saw copious snowfalls. The reserve looked magical, and many people were out and about with their cameras. Here are a few photographs taken by one of our stalwart volunteers, Janet Verno
There was a large quantity of litter on the reserve this winter. We aimed to clear this before Christmas but on the designated day there was too much snow around, so it was not done until 10th January. We had ten dedicated volunteers who managed to clear enough litter to fill the back of my Ford Ranger pick-up. So a big thankyou to them. Anyone visiting the reserve can pick up litter and dispose of it responsibly, and I would also like to thank those who do – it makes such a difference.
On 10th January the volunteers also did some wildlife recording, and made the following records: Green Woodpecker, FieldfareRedwing, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Blackbird, Robin, Carrion Crow, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tit, Kestrel, Meadow Pipit, Matchstick fungus,Purple Hairstreak butterfly egg, a small unidentified rodent andRabbits.Making wildlife records helps us to monitor the diversity that is to be found on the reserve, and it is also educational and fun. With this in mind we are holding a Butterfly Conservation 50th Anniversary BioBlitz on Thursday 19th July, recording as many species as possible in one day. A date for your diary, it will be open to the public, and more details will follow later.
The volunteers also planted a Scots Pine tree near the reserve gates, donated by The Woodland Trust as part of their Tree Charter project. The photo was taken by BC Reserves Officer Lucy Morton.
Over the years the reserve has been the site for three Masters in Science student projects, with students from Birmingham University, Harper Adams University and Manchester Metropolitan University. The last two MScs received Distinctions, and have proved very useful in helping us consider management options for the reserve. This spring and summer there will be another MSc student from Harper Adams University doing some survey work on the reserve, this time on planthoppersand leafhoppers, small jumping insects – we have virtually no records for this group to date, so the records will be very welcome. Could there be any rarities out there?
Butterfly Conservation Prees Heath Warden
Planting plug plants of Bell Heather has been the main focus of work on the reserve in recent weeks. After the Prees Heath volunteers planted 5,000 in September, in October this was followed by 22 trainees from RAF Shawbury planting another 5,000. All these were planted on the Corner field, south of the access track. The RAF Shawbury trainees also hand harvested seed of Bell Heather, which will be put to good use later on.
Later in October 22 sixth form students from Ellesmere College planted another 2,000 Bell Heather plugs in one afternoon, this time on the southern end of the Hangars field. Finally 12 first year undergraduates from Harper Adams University planted 3,400 more Bell Heather plugs on the East of Runway field. So a total of 15,400 plugs have been planted, and there will be a few more ready for planting sometime next year. A feature of the work on the reserve is to involve as many different community groups as possible.Most the heather that has been established on the restoration areas is Common Heather, but there is substantial amounts of Bell Heather on the rest of the reserve and it is important that we get it established across the whole area as far as is possible. Bell Heather provides a source on nectar for the Silver-studded Blues in June and July when it flowers.
One plant which we would welcome less of is New Zealand Pygmyweed, Crassula helmsii. Regrettably it has colonised the northern end of the pond, forming dense mats which choke out other plants. Getting rid of this invasive plant is nigh on impossible, so our efforts will be aiming to control its spread as much as we can. The Prees Heath volunteers have been pulling out sackfuls of the plant by the roots, and we will see what effect this has had before we consider any further action. I have been told that a biological control based on a gall-forming mite is currently being tested, but even if the tests are successful this will not be available for a few years yet. It is well known that even a tiny fragment of the plant can put down roots and spread.
I have received reports from members of the public of people hunting rabbits on the reserve with ferrets and dogs. The Police were contacted and spoke to the people concerned who were hunting the rabbits. They were told that rabbit hunting is not permitted on the reserve, and I am grateful to anyone who alerts me about this.
Finally, as many will know, funding of the Meres & Mosses Landscape Partnership Scheme ended recently. The reserve has benefited from the project in several ways, most notably regarding the conservation work on the former RAF control tower. The project’s final gift was a large cartoon about the history of Prees Heath Common. This can be viewed on the Home page of this website. The original is very large (170 x 120cm approximately) and we will consider how best, and how safely, to display it in the future.
Volunteer Warden, Prees Heath Common Reserve
Butterfly Conservation West Midlands Branch
Superb photograph by Stephen Barlow
This year we have made an effort to record damselfly and dragonfly species seen on the reserve’s pond, which we constructed in December 2009 in partnership with the Environment Agency. It is a shallow pond, with some deeper areas to act as a refuge for dragonfly larvae and other invertebrates in case the pond dried out in the summer, as some ponds do in the area, although fortunately this has not happened yet. Identifying some of the species is tricky, and often you need to get very close or, a better option, take a photograph ensuring you focus on the specific diagnostic features. Subtle differences between immature and mature specimens and males and females can add to the difficulties in correct identification. For example, the Azure Damselfly and the Common Blue Damselfly are remarkably similar – a good field guide is essential, or you can visit www.shropshiredragonflies.co.uk which has identification hints as well as a wealth of other information.
This year we identified 15 species, and here is the list:
Common Blue Damselfly
Large Red Damselfly
In addition, Southern Hawker has been recorded in a previous year, bringing the pond’s species list to a total of 16. Here are photos of some of them:
|Common Blue Damselflies mating||Blue-tailed Damselfly|
|Emperor Dragonfly||Ruddy Darter|
|Four-spotted Chaser||Common Hawker|
This autumn volunteers will be busy planting 20,000 plug plants of Bell Heather, Erica cinerea. They have been grown for us by Forestart, a seed company based in Hadnall, from seed harvested on the reserve by our volunteers. There are two types of heather on the reserve, the other one being Common Heather, Calluna vulgaris, also known as Ling. Both species will be used by the Silver-studded Blue for egg-laying, but Bell Heather is an important source of nectar for the butterfly as it flowers during the butterfly’s flight period of June and July. By contrast, Common Heather does not flower until August and September, by which time the Silver-studded Blues have mated, the females have laid their eggs and both the males and the females have died. The plugs are being planted in clumps of around ten, mainly in areas of bare ground that are being restored to heathland.
Bell Heather plugs planted in a clump
This year we saw a significant number of Silver-studded Blues on the southern end of the heather area to the east of the runway. In September Lucy found three Silver-studded Blue eggs in this area, proof that it is now being used for breeding. Surprisingly, one of the eggs was found on Common Mouse-ear, Cerastium fontanum. A number of ants’ nests are clearly visible in the area. The eggs will remain there throughout the winter until the tiny caterpillar hatches in the spring.
Silver-studded Blue egg laid on Common Mouse-ear
Prees Heath Volunteer Warden, Butterfly Conservation