By now the butterfly season is generally over, with just a few stragglers on the wing before the frosts set in. And yet this is not the full story. All butterflies and moths have 4 stages of life, with different species overwintering as eggs, caterpillars, chrysalises or adults, and now is a good time to do some butterfly egg hunting. Most people do not associate butterflies with trees, but there are a few species that will spend most of their lives around trees. One of these is the Purple Hairstreak, and on the reserve there are a good number of oak trees where colonies of these butterflies live. Many of these oaks tend to have branches close to the ground and are therefore ideal for spotting the eggs of the Purple Hairstreak at this time of year. The eggs are round, disc-shaped with an intricate pattern, not dissimilar to the eggs of the Silver-studded Blue, and are laid by the females near the tip of the twigs close to a cluster of buds which will provide the caterpillar with an instant supply of food when they hatch in the spring. The adults fly in July and have a purple flash on the upperside of their wings, although they tend to rest mainly with their wings closed. Here is a Purple Hairstreak egg I photographed on the oak trees on the western side of the reserve on 27th November.
Purple Hairstreak egg
Birch seedlings continue to appear on the former arable areas we are restoring to heathland/grassland. 12 volunteers got busy on 30th October removing as many as we could on the Hangars Field, along with brambles and willows. I followed this up by spot spraying weeds, mainly ragwort, on all the heathland restoration areas – an ongoing and seemingly endless task. On part of the East of Runway area (approximately 1 hectare) we have too much rosebay willowherb which is competing with the heather seedlings, and removing this without killing off the heather is not straightforward. Various options have been considered and professional advice sought, and the problem will be tackled next year.
Lucy and I ran a stall at the Blackberry Fair in Whitchurch on 5th October. We were well positioned outside Stead and Simpson’s shoe shop at one of the main access points to the centre of the town, and, with good weather and lots of people, we had a great time. In previous years the Fair has been held indoors in the Civic Centre, but as this was being refurbished the Fair was held in the streets this year, and this certainly contributed to its success. Making caterpillars and butterflies out of pipe cleaners was particularly popular.
At the Blackberry Fair
Work has been progressing on the project to carry out some restoration work on the former RAF control tower, and I hope to be able to make an announcement about this very soon – keep watching the website! Meanwhile the 6 information panels telling the whole history of Prees Heath Common from the last ice age to the present day which will be attached to the exterior of the building have already been completed – they were being funded from a different source (Leader) from the building works. Many thanks to all those who contributed images and information for their design. The 6 panels focus on:
- The Geology of Prees Heath
- The World War One Camp
- The World War Two Internment Camp and POW Camp
- The World War Two Airfield
- The Heritage of the Common
- The Silver-studded Blue and Lowland Heath
All the panels are A1 size, all of similar design, and here is the sample:
Students from Reaseheath College and Staffordshire University have enjoyed guided walks on the reserve as part of their studies, and in particular learning about heathland restoration. I am planning next year that they will also carry out some practical work on the reserve as well, as was the case with students from Stafford College back in September. I am also hoping that a student from Harper Adams University will carry out some research work for us next year on the heathland restoration on the Hangars Field.
Students removing birch seedlings Bell heather plug
As part of the restoration works we have been trying to establish bell heather as well as common heather on the former arable areas. A few years ago Forestart, a seed company based in Hadnall near Shrewsbury, grew 20,000 bell heather plug plants from seed harvested on site, and these were planted out by the volunteers. Those that escaped the attentions of the rabbits have done well, and we have now asked Forestart to provide us with another 20,000 plug plants, which should be ready for planting in 2015.
Finally Butterfly Conservation held its AGM & Members Day on 16th November in Swindon - the venue changes each year, and next yesr it will be held in Suffolk. Around 300 people. including Lucy and myself, were treated to a range of fascinating talks on butterflies and moths as well as the opportunity to meet a whole range of interesting and dedicated people and buy some early Christmas presents at a variety of stalls.
Butterfly Conservation Chair David Dennis welcomes everyone
Stephen Lewis, Prees Heath Warden