The volunteers have been busy during the autumn. Their main task has been clearing brambles and birch saplings from the SSSI parts of the reserve, that is to say those areas which were not in arable cultivation prior to purchase by Butterfly Conservation. If we did not do this the open heathland would be lost and it would become scrub woodland instead. To assist in dealing with the birch saplings we now have new tools called Tree-poppers. These are in effect long and heavy levers which grip the stem of the sapling at the base and then muscle power is used to press down on the lever to pull up the sapling by the roots. Below is a photo of one of the volunteers using it, and also of the volunteers installing new waymarker posts for the Silver-studded Blue walk after removing the old rotten ones.
The volunteers have also been busy hand-harvesting bell heather seed. We have contracted a local company to provide us with bell heather plugs grown from seed harvested on the reserve, which should have been ready for planting this autumn, but unfortunately they have had difficulty in getting the seed to germinate, and the earliest any plugs will be ready is now the autumn of 2017.
Two small moths have been found on the reserve this autumn. It is believed that Acleris hyemana (it has no common name) has not been recorded on the reserve since 1960. It is a resident moth that is found on wet and dry heaths that hibernates as an adult. The Rush Veneer (Nomophila noctuella) is a migrant that comes here from southern Europe and northern Africa, and is more often seen in coastal localities rather than somewhere like Shropshire.
Staying with moths, we also found large numbers of caterpillars clustered on single small trees. These were the caterpillars of the Buff-tip, an intriguing moth that as an adult closely resembles a birch twig, presumably as a form of camouflage defence.
Most dog owners who use the reserve are responsible and clean up after their dog and use the bin provided. However, sadly a minority do not do this and recently a letter I wrote about this was published in the Shropshire Star and Whitchurch Herald. Dog mess is a health hazard, damages the soils and the plant life and makes walking on the reserve an obstacle course to make sure you do not tread in it. We have now started spraying dog mess with eco-friendly pink chalk paint to highlight the problem. Any further suggestions as to how we might tackle this problem are welcome – please do not hesitate to contact me.
Butterfly Conservation West Midlands Branch has been very busy preparing a book to be published next spring entitled ‘Butterflies of the West Midlands’. I have written the chapter on the Silver-studded Blue, with Prees Heath being its sole site in the region. Watch this website for more details and how you can purchase a copy. Butterfly Conservation is a membership organisation – it’s remarkably inexpensive to join – and for your membership you get three copies a year of our Butterfly magazine and three copies a year of the West Midlands newsletter, which I edit, as well as the knowledge that you are supporting the work we do in conserving Britain’s butterflies and moths.
Prees Heath Warden