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February - March 2014 Report

 

This period has seen the completion of conservation work on the former RAF control tower, an historic building, thanks to funding received from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Natural England. Although progress was slow initially due to the wet weather, work speeded up when fine weather came along in March and the contractors – PG Mullock of Bronington – were able to complete the project to a high standard on schedule and on budget. The most costly element of the project, as is the case with many restoration schemes, was repairing the roof, which was letting in moisture and had a big dip in the centre. A 1:100 fall from the middle to the edges measured with a laser was built using sand and cement to enable the rainwater to drain away, and this was followed be re-instatement of asphalt, as was the case when the tower was built in 1942.

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Re-asphalting the roof

The asphalt was applied in two layers, and topped with a coat of solar reflective paint, so the finished roof is now white, although the only people who will be able to see this are the parachutists from across the road.

All the windows were bricked up apart from one which has a steel shutter, although some on the first floor have narrow gaps at their tops to enable bats to use the interior. Some vents on the ground floor have been left open for birds, bats and insects, and in fact one of these already has a bird’s nest. Six swift boxes have been installed on the north facing wall and we will wait and see whether swifts or another species uses these.

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Swift boxes on the north wall

Seven information panels have been installed on the west and south walls – these give visitors to the reserve an insight into:

  • Other sites in the Meres and Mosses
  • Geology of the lowland heath
  • Silver-studded Blue butterfly
  • Social heritage of the Common
  • World War One training camp, hospital and demob centre
  • World War Two internment and prisoner of war camp
  • World War Two bomber training airfield

The interior will be open to the public by arrangement and on guided walks, although some more work needs to be done before this can happen.

The volunteers have been bust over the last couple of months clearing an area of dead and degenerate gorse, which has no wildlife value. The ground underneath has been enriched by all the gorse litter and nettles are evident, but it was all raked and we hope that some gorse will regenerate through the natural seed bank and sowing some gorse seed that was harvested on site last year.

An MSc student from Harper Adams University started her project exploring the suitability of the restored heathland for the Silver-studded Blue. She will be continuing this important work during the spring and summer, carrying out surveys of vegetation, ant colonies and Silver-studded Blue caterpillars and adults.

The fine spring weather has provided good conditions for some butterfly species, with those that over-winter as adults, like Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Brimstone being seen in good numbers. Already some of the first species to emerge from their pupal cases such as Orange-tip and Green-veined White have been spotted. Spring also see the arrival of migrant birds, with the Chiff-chaff one of the first to be heard on the reserve in late March.

News from the pond has not been so good. A lot of frogs and frogspawn was seen in March. Blanket weed is already much in evidence – I have put some barley straw bales into the pond to try to combat this but with little success so far. In addition, Horsetail is starting to colonise the pond, and this will over time prove invasive, and of course it cannot be chemically controlled in the water.

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Frogs breeding in the pond

Recently several goldfish were seen in the pond, but shortly afterwards a heron paid a visit and hopefully this will solve that problem. I would implore people not to add anything to the pond or to any other part of the reserve – take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints.

The first public event of the year takes place on Saturday 10th May at 10.00am – an introduction to the birdlife of the reserve led by local bird expert and Prees Heath volunteer Estelle Hughes. I am very grateful to Estelle for doing this for us, and I am sure it will be very enjoyable.

Stephen Lewis

Prees Heath Warden