This time of the year sees the most visitors to the reserve, some of whom come from far and wide – this year we have met visitors from Inverness in Scotland and Kilkenny in the Irish Republic. The main reason for this is, of course, the Silver-studded Blue butterfly, and this year it was to be seen in high numbers. It was somewhat earlier than usual, with the first sighting on 11th June. Numbers peaked in the last week in June, so by the time the Prees Heath Volunteers did a full count of the butterfly on the reserve and adjacent areas which support parts of the colony on 6th July they were past their peak. Nonetheless, 2,954 Silver-studded Blues were recorded on that morning, an astonishing figure. Of particular note is that 226 were recorded on the Hangars Field, the first area we restored to heathland.
Silver-studed Blue (Photo by Les Price)
Staying with heathland restoration, last year we saw that some of the heather on the Hangars Field had turned red at the tips. We thought this might indicate the presence of Heather Beetle, which can defoliate and kill Common Heather plants (it does not affect Bell Heather), and this year it is evident that our fears are justified, and the beetle has spread over a wide area and onto the heather on the East of Runway Field. It seems likely that the beetle has been present on the site for years, but it is only recently that numbers have built up to the present infestation. We are now considering what action to take, if any.
Heather Beetle Larva (Photo by Lucy Lewis)
The Silver-studded Blue guided walk always takes place on the first Sunday in July at 2pm, and it is now combined with an open session at the former RAF control tower. This year saw 30 people take part. Access to parts of the building has to be restricted due to the presence of bats, which have been attracted by some of the roosting structures we installed. Sadly, the six swift boxes we installed on the exterior have not yet been colonised by Swifts, although House Sparrows have used at least one of them.
On the guided walk (Photo by Stephen Lewis)
Moth Night and Moth Breakfast on 10th/11th June saw 20 people enjoy a varied catch of moths, some of which were new records for the reserve, such as Bird’s Wing and Peach Blossom. For once, the weather was close to ideal – warm, cloudy but not too wet and still. The theme of Moth Night was Hawk-moths, and we saw three species – Elephant, Small Elephant and Poplar.
Years 3 & 4 at Prees Primary School have been working towards their John Muir Awards this year. In the spring they planted some trees on the eastern boundary of the reserve, and in July they returned to learn more about the Silver-studded Blue butterfly, its life cycle and its heathland habitat, and they counted large numbers of the butterfly. Back at school in the afternoon they role played being Silver-studded Blue caterpillars, ants (friends) and spiders and wasps (enemies). My thanks to Shropshire Wildlife Trust staff and volunteers for their help with this.
Another event on the reserve has been, and returning by popular demand, a photography workshop led by award-winning photographer Mark Sisson. My thanks to the Meres & Mosses Landscape Partnership Scheme for their help with this. In all, and not forgetting the BioBlitz held in May, the 10th anniversary of the reserve has been well and truly celebrated.
We now have evidence that Purple Hairstreak butterflies are using Oaks, the buds and leaves of which are the caterpillar’s sole food plant, on at least three different areas of the reserve. Visitors also had the pleasure of seeing a number of Common Lizards basking on the green concrete blocks by the reserve entrance. A female pink Meadow Grasshopper, an uncommon mutation, was photographed on the reserve and was also featured in the local press.
Purple Hairstreak (Photo by Stephen Lewis)
Pink Meadow Grasshopper (Photo John Harding)
Common Lizard (Photo by John Hill)
Finally, my thanks to the Prees Heath Common Reserve Support Group for sponsoring the Silver-studded Blue chapter in the newly published ‘Butterflies of the West Midlands’ book. In return they received a free copy of the book, which they donated to Whitchurch Library. Copies of the book at £18.95 each are available either by contacting me or by visiting www.naturebureau.co.uk
Donating the new book to Whitchurch Library
L to R Stephen Lewis, Hazel Price (Librarian), Julia Gallacher & Mike Gallacher (Photo by Lucy Lewis)
Prees Heath Warden
Butterfly Conservation West Midlands Branch