Friday 9th August was Moth Night, when people all over the UK get out their moth traps and record the nation’s moth fauna, and this was followed by a Moth Breakfast on the Saturday morning when the traps were opened and people could see (and photograph) what was caught before the moths were released. For once the weather was near perfect (dry, warm and still) and at Prees Heath we had a very successful evening with a total of 74 species. Later that month West Midlands moth expert Dave Grundy did an overnight session on the reserve using several traps and his catch included the nationally scarce micro-moth Crambus hamella, a moth that likes sandy places.
We continued to remove Common Ragwort from the site in accordance with Defra’s Code of Practice on Controlling the Spread of Ragwort. This means we try to keep it from spreading onto neighbouring sites where horses graze or where the fields are used to produce winter fodder. The Code makes it clear that the intention is not to eliminate Ragwort, part of our native flora, especially as it is beneficial to a whole range of insects, including the Cinnabar Moth as the caterpillars eat its leaves. Many thanks to the volunteers who helped with this task. In addition to their efforts, we also arranged for staff from a local contractor, AR Richards, to spend a day clearing one particular area. Already I have started knapsack spraying the basal rosettes of next year’s flowering plants to reduce the amount we have to remove by pulling.
Work has continued on the project to carry out some restoration works on the former RAF control tower. As the land is registered common, an application has been made to the Planning Inspectorate to erect temporary security fencing around the building while the works are carried out, and to construct two soakaways for the rainwater. Shropshire Council has already granted a Certificate of Lawful Development for the works to the building itself. A series of 6 information panels is planned for the exterior of the building telling the whole history of the common from the last ice age to the present day, and as more research is done more interesting stories emerge – do contact me if you feel you have anything you would like to contribute. Most people know that the common was a WW2 bomber training airfield, but did you know that Horsa gliders used in the D-Day landings were also based here. A replica of one of these gliders is being constructed at RAF Shawbury.
Horsa glider under construction at RAF Shawbury
We continue to work on the restoration of the reserve to heathland and acid grassland, and to monitor the results thus far. The field in front of the old hangars is now full of heather, and this is now providing us with a seed source for other areas, principally the field on the south side of the access track. On the other side of the runway thousands of heather plants are now getting established, although in one patch they are having to compete with Rosebay Willowherb, an invasive plant that we will have to control.
A group of students on a Countryside Management course at Stafford College spent a day on the reserve in September. As well as having a guided walk around the site they helped to remove some birch seedlings from the restoration areas and also hand-harvested some Bell Heather seeds which will be broadcast on the restoration areas. They were an enthusiastic group and it was a pleasure to be with them and their tutor, Liz Stanhope.
Stafford College students hand-harvesting Bell Heather seed
The reserve is receiving support from the Meres and Mosses Landscape Partnership Scheme to carry out restoration work on the control tower, and Butterfly Conservation is a partner organisation to the whole project. A big public Meres and Mosses celebration event called Merefest was held at Cholmondeley Castle in Cheshire on 24th September and was attended by well over 1,000 people. There were many stalls, lots for people to do and a really great time was had by all. Butterfly Conservation had a stall, where we not only gave lots of information about the reserve, including the control tower, explained how people can get involved to help butterflies and moths, how to become a member of Butterfly Conservation (it’s so easy!), displayed live moths trapped the night before, but also gave children the opportunity to make a caterpillar or a butterfly out of coloured pipe-cleaners. We were very busy. The event was a huge success and will be repeated next year.
Lucy Lewis at Butterfly Conservation’s stall at Merefest
Over the last few years I have given many talks to local community groups about Prees Heath. Recently I gave an evening talk to the Stone and District Group of Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, which was well attended. After many of these talks the group wants to arrange a follow-up by visiting the reserve with me when the Silver-studded Blue butterflies are flying, and I have already arranged a date in 2014 with them, so bookings are now being taken for next year’s Silver-studded Blue season, as well as for talks to any community groups.
Prees Heath Warden