Autumn is traditionally a lovely time on the heath, with the golds and browns replacing the bright greens and flowery colours of summer. Flocks of Lapwings and Starlings are to be seen overhead. And the Prees Heath volunteers have been busy tackling the thousands of birch seedlings on the restoration areas and hand-harvesting Bell Heather seed to be broadcast on those areas.
The work of the volunteers complements the more large-scale work carried out by contractors. The Hangars Field has seen the best Common Heather growth since it was seeded in 2007, to the extent that some of the heather was well over knee-high and too shady for the ants that are an essential component in the ecology of the Silver-studded Blue butterfly. Local contractors Adrian Marsh Ltd brought a disc harevster onto the site and mowed abpproximately 2 hectares of mature heather, blowing the cuttings, which contained seed, into a clean muck spreader driven alongside. The muck spreader then broadcast the cuttings on the Corner Field on the far side of the access track, where the heather germination thus far has not been as good, and the Bell Heather seed harvested previously by the volunteers was added. Finally the tractor and muck spreader drove up and down to compress the seed into the sand.
The restoration work on the former RAF control tower has undoubtedly raised its profile. In October the BBC Midlands Today broadcast live from the building, which was floodlit in the evening. Hibernating butterflies and moths inside the buidling were filmed, and in the evening, when the weather detiorated badly, a group of volunteers were filmed moth-trapping. Despite the conditions, we did actually get a couple of moths, one of which was the beautiful Merveille du Jour. The photo shows volunteer Clive Dyer holding on to one of the TV lights to stop it from blowing away whilst BBC presenter David Gregory-Kumar offers encouragement. The BBC has put the film on Youtube and it can be seen at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWg8CNjxw9U
There are a number of pieces of roofing felt scattered on the reserve at present, and these are part of a reptile survey being carried out by the Meres & Mosses project, who are also undertaking a mammal survey for us. In November leader Stuart Edmunds and some volunteers found Wood Mouse, Field Vole and the less common Yellow-necked Mouse, which escaped before it could be photographed.
We are always recording new wildlife on the reserve, and this is further evidence that the restoration work is benefitting a whole range of species and not just butterflies. In October two of our volunteers, Doug Hampson and Vera Roberts, saw a family of weasels run across the access track. We also received a record for the Twin-spot Stiletto fly – this normally occurs in the UK on coastal sand dunes and is found infrequently inland.
Prees Heath Warden