When Butterfly Conservation purchased the western half of Prees Heath Common in 2006 approximately half of the site had been in intensive agriculture for at least 30 years, growing crops of potatoes, wheat and beans. We launched an ambitious project to restore these areas to lowland heath, knowing that the heathland had been totally destroyed there and that reverting land that was high in nutrients and high pH levels, due to the copious quantities of manures and fertilisers that had been applied to grow crops, back to heathland, which by definition has low nutrient and pH levels, was going to be very difficult. The aim was to extend the heathland habitat not just for the Silver-studded Blue butterfly but for the benefit of all wildlife.
After some radical interventions, which are detailed in the Aspects of Applied Biology paper available on this website as a download, we began to see not only lots of heather but also some Silver-studded Blues flying on these areas, as well as seeing other insect life, including the Black Ants which are essential to the life cycle of the Silver-studded Blue. What we needed to have, however, is evidence that the Silver-studded Blue was starting to use these re-created heathland areas for breeding. This year Natalie Kay, an MSc student from Harper Adams University, has been carrying out various surveys on the re-created areas, and, whilst surveying for ants’ nests she found a Silver-studded Blue caterpillar on one of the nests attended by Black Ants, and she took this photo:
The photo itself may not be of the highest quality, but it represents a very significant outcome for our work.
In May I was able to report the sighting of a Green Hairstreak, the first recorded on the reserve since purchase. Now we have another new species – Essex Skipper. This species needs care in distinguishing it from the Small Skipper, the key differences being:
- the tips of the antennae - black all round as if dipped in ink on the Essex Skipper whereas the Small Skipper only has black on the uppersides of the antennae tips
- the angle of the sex brand on the upperside of the forewing, which are parallel with the forewing leading edge on the Essex Skipper but at a slight angle on the Small Skipper
The Essex Skipper is expanding its range, and it is thought that this may in part be due to the transportation by road of hay which is likely to contain Essex Skipper eggs – it may have reached Prees Heath by literally falling off the back of a lorry!
Many Silver-studded Blues were to be seen this summer and on 30th June Natalie Kay counted over 900 on the runway. Yet it was a below average year. The butterfly naturally form dense dense colonies so even in poor years many can be seen at their peak time, which is usually late June/early July.
Another key event this summer was the official opening of the former RAF control tower on 27th June following the completion of conservation work. Despite persistent rain, over 80 people came, and they also had the opportunity to see the Silver-studded Blues sheltering from the weather. The tower was opened by Martin Noble, whose father used to work in the building in the war, and his family. We were also delighted to have prsent Harry Jondorf and his family - Harry's father Wilhelm Jondorf painted the scenes of the life in the 1940 internment camp that are displayed on one of the panels on the exterior of the building. Harry was also able to give me copies of some additional paintings of the camp by his father (see one below) which will be displayed inside the building, which will be open on guided walks etc as advertised locally.
Butterfly Conservation, Prees Heath Warden