This is usually the quietest time of the year on the reserve before the weather turns milder in the early spring. However this winter has been so mild and wet that there are already many stirrings of life.
One notable feature this winter has been that the reserve has continued to host a large range of birds. Normally in a colder winter, especially when there is snow around, there is little birdlife present as many birds find a greater availability of food in nearby gardens than on the reserve. Not the case this year, as flocks of Goldfinches, Starlings and Fieldfares have been seen, and huge flocks of Lapwing have been present on the other half of the common across the A41. In January I and a visitor flushed up five Common Snipe on the restored heathland in front of the hangars and near the control tower – yet another sign of how the work we are doing is benefitting a whole range of wildlife. Another visitor was thrilled to tell me he had seen a stoat going in and out of rabbit holes, and was able to show me some photographs he had taken.
The most noticeable development over recent weeks has been that work has begun to repair the former RAF control tower. This is being funded by the Heritage Lottery Scheme through the Meres & Mosses Landscape Partnership Scheme and by Natural England through Higher Level Stewardship as an historic building. The project so far has seen all the windows blocked up except one of the large windows on the first floor, which will have a roller steel shutter installed, and work has begun on repairing the render. Some of the first floor windows have gaps to allow wildlife such as bats to access the building. Work will then begin on repairing the roof and covering it with asphalt as was the case when it was built, as well as painting the building in camouflage colours. Although many will feel the recent wet weather has been far from beneficial, at least it has been reasonably mild with few frosts which is more suitable for tasks such as rendering. When the building work is complete the tower will have six information panels telling the whole story of Prees Heath Common installed on the exterior. The work is scheduled to be completed by the end of March.
Work in progress
The six information panels describing the whole history of Prees Heath Common from the last ice age to the present day have already been manufactured and will be installed around the exterior walls. The panels have been funded by Northern Marches LEADER. The building will also be made wildlife-friendly – entrance gaps are being left for bats, birds and insects. Bat boxes will be installed inside and swift boxes outside. The interior of the building will be accessible by arrangement.
The volunteer have also been hard at work in the past few weeks. In the autumn local seed merchants Forestart brush-harvested heather seed for us on the restoration area that has done best in front of the hangars, and the volunteers helped to broadcast some of this seed on the field by the access track, where germination to date has been minimal. After this we all adjourned to the Midway cafe for lunch, an annual event as Butterfly Conservation’s thank you to all our volunteers. In January they began cutting and burning dead and degenerate gorse and brambles – a lot of gorse died back in the cold winters of a couple of years ago, and, whilst some has managed to regenerate a lot hasn’t and is now of little value to wildlife.
The volunteers taking a break
In 2012 we received a grant from Veolia Environmental Trust and in December a member of their staff visited the reserve to find out how their money had been spent. I was able to show them an extensive area of grassland that had been sown with wildflower and grass seed sourced from SSSI sites elsewhere in the UK, in other words naturally grown seed as opposed to cultivated seed, that they had funded, as well as more of the heathland restoration and the information panel on the concrete plinth.
The reserve support group met in December. This is a gathering of Prees Heath Commoners, Butterfly Conservation members, volunteers and interested local residents held as and when deemed appropriate to discuss all manner of issues relating to the reserve, as well as the rest of the common and the surrounding area. We meet in Tilstock Village Hall, and anyone willing to join is welcome to contact me.
Prees Heath Warden