The volunteers have been busy recently, clearing dead gorse. We believe that there used to be a lot more gorse, a typical heathland plant, on the reserve than there is now, and we would like to see more. It is quite susceptible to cold winters, and clearing the dead material should help regeneration. There is some evidence of young gorse growth at the southern end of the old runway, which is a sign that it can and will return.
I have given a total of 46 illustrated talks about Prees Heath since Butterfly Conservation purchased the reserve in 2006, and three of these were in the last couple of months. Firstly I gave an evening talk to the Higher Heath Tuesday Club at Higher Heath Village Hall, and it is always a pleasure to speak to local people about the reserve, and also to hear their memories and stories about the site before it was purchased. Then I gave a talk to the West Midlands Branch of Butterfly Conservation AGM at Cannock Chase. Finally in March I gave a talk at the 11th National Heathland Conference organised by Natural England and Surrey Wildlife Trust at Sunningdale in Berkshire, with over 200 delegates representing over 60 organisations present. The conference was spread over 3 days, including some heathland site visits on the second day. Surrey and Berkshire are particularly rich in extensive heathlands, and provide a number of sites for the Silver-studded Blue.
The West Midlands Branch of Butterfly Conservation is publishing a book next year entitled ‘Butterflies of the West Midlands’, with chapters on each of the 44 species to be found in the region. I have been busy preparing the Silver-studded Blue chapter, as well as a couple of others, and as part of this I have been researching historic records for the reserve at Ludlow Museum Resource Centre, Manchester Museum and Liverpool Museum. Each of their collections of records and pinned specimens from the days when butterfly collecting was very much in vogue, are fascinating in their own way. The book will also feature walks detailing the best sites to see butterflies, including Prees Heath of course, and many high quality photographs showing, where possible, the different life stages of the species. A big thank you to everyone who has sponsored the book by championing particular species.
It is always a pleasure to show people round the reserve, and on one Saturday in March I was able to take some mature students from Reaseheath College near Nantwich on a guided walk. Students ask interesting, and sometimes challenging, questions, which is what I like. After the walk they helped with some practical work on the reserve.
Dog fouling is a continual problem on the reserve, despite the provision of a dog waste bin. I do speak to as many dog walkers as I can about this, but I would be grateful for any suggestions as to how we might improve things. Dog mess is a health hazard, unpleasant for visitors and volunteers who have to try to avoid stepping in it and bad for the wildlife habitat as it enriches the soil. Answers please!
Prees Heath Warden