Thursday 7th June, a bit earlier than usual. Common Blues are still about in good numbers so it is important not to confuse them with the Silver-studded Blues, which are smaller. Also a good number of dragonflies are on the wing at the pond, including Emperors, Britain's largest dragonfly.
This year is Butterfly Conservation’s 50th anniversary. As part of the celebrations we will be hosting a BioBlitz on the reserve on Thursday 19th July, from 8.00am until 10.00pm. What is a BioBlitz? It’s an event to record as many living species – plants, birds, reptiles, insects, spiders, mammals, amphibians etc - in one day as possible, providing useful information as to what actually lives on the reserve and calls it home. It’s a public event so everyone is welcome to come along and join in – you don’t have to be an expert, but there will be experts on site so it will also be an opportunity for people to learn more about wildlife. There will be some guided walks timetabled so watch this website for further details nearer the time. A marquee, tables, chairs, refreshments and portaloos will also be provided. Make a note of the date in your diary! And, if that wasn’t enough to tempt you to come along, we will be joined by TV wildlife presenter and author Chris Packham in the late afternoon/evening.
After a cold early spring, the fine weather in May has really got everything buzzing. This summer Natural England has arranged for a survey of bees, wasps and ants on the reserve, to be done by local entomologists Ian Cheeseborough and Nigel Jones. In addition an MSc student from Harper Adams University is surveying leafhoppers and planthoppers.
Each week from April until September a fixed route is walked on the reserve to record the butterflies, called a transect. On 23rd May for the first time since the transectwas established several years ago a Dingy Skipper butterfly was recorded, and I managed to contain my surprise to photograph it before it flew off. The caterpillar food plant for this species is Bird’s-foot Trefoil, which is widely present on the reserve, so it is not a total surprise to find the butterfly. In fact we do have historical records for this butterfly here prior to purchase in 2006, and it was also seen, although not on the transect, in 2016.And another one was found later that afternoon well away from the transect route. It is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority species, so it is very good news that it is present on the reserve.
The pond continues to do well. Visitors may have seen some straw bales in the pond – we have put two bales of barley straw into the pond each year as it contains a chemical that prevents a build-up of blanket weed. A Common Lizard has been seen basking on the concrete blocks by the reserve gates, a favourite spot for them. Silver-studded Blue caterpillars attended by ants have been seen on the restored area to the east of the old runway. Skylarks have been heard singing over the restored areas, but the presence of large numbers of Carrion Crows may well affect their fortunes as regards raising young. An immature male Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly has also been seen, as well as several damselflies.
We continue to have problems with unwanted plants on some areas of the reserve, and use herbicides to control Ragwort, Docks and Birch seedlings. A large poisonous plant called Hemlock is spreading in areas around the reserve entrance, and this will need to be controlled as well.
I have been contacted by a regular visitor to the reserve about rabbits being killed. Nobody is authorised to kill rabbits on the reserve, and I advise anyone who witnesses people engaged in this activity to contact the Police on their non-emergency number 101 rather than approach the individuals themselves. The Police have responded promptly before by coming on site and getting those responsible to leave.
Finally, we will be arranging for some repairs to the access track to be carried out in the next few weeks.
Prees Heath Volunteer Warden
One Saturday in February a small group of part-time students from Reaseheath College near Nantwich visited the reserve. They are all mature students who have jobs and are contemplating a career change reflecting their interest in environmental issues. After a two hour guided walk talking to them about the heathland habitat and the ongoing restoration work they did some filming of the reserve using a camera mounted on a drone. First of all I had to liaise with Tilstock Skydive across the A41 to ensure that it was safe to launch the drone, and, after a couple of technical hitches, it took to the skies. Shown below are a couple of the photos taken, and the students also filmed some video footage. It gives a different perspective on the reserve, and we hope to do some more filming at a later date.
One of the features the drone highlighted was the heather mowing on the Hangars field. Here Lucy Morton, BC Reserves Officer, and me have been mowing different areas of heather that has either become tall and leggy or has been infected by heather beetle. As you can see, we are experimenting with mowing different shapes rather than rectangles. It will be interesting to see if the flora that ensues will be more diverse than previously.
Butterfly Conservation celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. As part of the celebrations volunteers from across the country carried out habitat improvement works on Saturday 10th March, which was termed a Day of Action. At Prees Heath our volunteers cleared birch saplings at the southern end of the Corner field to prevent more encroachment onto this heathland restoration area. It was a cold day, wet in the afternoon, but we had a bonfire to keep us warm. It took some time to get going, but thanks to the perseverance of Allan Dawes and Clive Dyer we did succeed eventually. Earlier on the day I gave an interview on BBC Radio Shropshire.
Visitors to the reserve may have noticed that some tree work has been carried out along the access track. This will give easier access to the two properties at the far end of the track. The work was done by a local professional company of tree surgeons with the approval of Shropshire Council as regards the Tree Protection Order that exists across the whole of Prees Heath Common. The company had a chipper on site so that no arisings were left once they had finished. I have also cut back some gorse along the A49 northwards from where the track meets the road to improve sightlines for drivers.
I continue to give illustrated talks about Prees Heath, its history, restoration, wildlife and the Silver-studded Blue butterfly, and in March I gave a talk to Audlem Wildlife Group in Cheshire. In April I am scheduled to talk to Ellesmere Gardening Club. So please let me know if you would like me to come a give a talk to your group, near or far – I have given talks about Prees Heath as far afield as Sussex, South Wales and Belfast in beautiful Northern Ireland.
In February each year I chair a meeting of the Reserve Support Group, which consists of interested local residents, including Prees Heath commoners. We discuss a range of issues relating to the reserve, not just the wildlife but also public access, dogs, events, site works and anything anybody wishes to raise. To be a member of the group you have to be supportive of the work of Butterfly Conservation on the reserve, and do let me know if you would be interested in joining. Alternatively I am always willing to discuss any aspect of the reserve – you can contact me by phone or email, or come up to me and talk to me if you see me on site.
Lastly, I was fortunate enough to have been nominated for an award regarding the work on the reserve by Natural England, and I received the award at the Wyre Forest Discovery Centre from the Chair of Natural England, Andrew Sells on 28th March. In accepting the award I made it clear that it was really on behalf of Butterfly Conservation, the Prees Heath commoners and supportive local residents, community groups and the many, many people who have helped us along the way.
Prees Heath Warden, Butterfly Conservation