As people may know, it is now 10 years since Butterfly Conservation purchased the western half of Prees Heath Common and started on a heathland restoration project on areas that were formerly used to grow crops. It has to be said that restoring to heathland – which requires low fertility and low pH levels – arable land used to grow crops – which requires high fertility and nutrients and high pH levels – is notoriously challenging. The project began in October 2006 when Dr Phil Putwain from Liverpool University and I took some soil samples at a depth of up to one metre from these areas and they were analysed in the laboratory and the results were interpreted by Dr Putwain, who also discussed options with us and recommendations. This resulted in various interventions, including deep ploughing these areas up to a depth of one metre. Much work had been done, and we thought it was good time to re-appraise the project and in particular the current state of the soils, so we asked Dr Putwain to take further soil samples and provide us with another report.
After deep ploughing in 2007
In his recent report Dr Putwain, who has also been measuring pH levels on some the former arable areas on an annual basis, concluded that the interventions we carried out and the consequent improvement in the soils to enable the establishment if heathland species have been sustained on most of the former arable areas. In future it will be important to continue to control invasive species such as Birch and Rosebay Willowherb on these areas. However the analysis revealed a slightly more problematic situation on the Hangars field, the first area to receive heather seed, as recent increases in the soil pH level here in the 0 – 10cm horizon give a cause for concern. Monitoring of the pH levels here in future should be done on a twice per year basis.
Analysis was also carried out on the large grassy area to the south of the hangars, which is part of the Site of Special Scientific Interest and was not deep ploughed but was used to grow crops at some stage. There is little evidence here of any reversion to heathland, which shows that the option of not intervening but waiting and seeing what happens has not produced any significant change. Dr Putwain advised that stripping off some of the topsoil may be an option to consider here in the future.
Many people have said that this has been a poor year for butterflies, but this has not been the case at Prees Heath. The Silver-studded Blues enjoyed their best year for the last three years. Small Heaths and, especially, Small Coppers were recorded in very good numbers, but Small Tortoiseshells, Commas and Peacocks were only seen occasionally. Numbers of Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers were lower than normal. So maybe it was a year when the more common species such as those to be seen in your garden were not so evident but those that inhabit uncultivated areas fared better.
On other matters, the volunteers have been busy removing Birch saplings from the Hangars field. We manned a stall at Merefest, held in Ellesmere in September, publicising not only the reserve and the work of Butterfly Conservation but also the recently published book ‘Butterflies of the West Midlands’. We raffled a copy to raise funds for the West Midlands Branch of Butterfly Conservation.
The Major of Ellesmere holding a copy of the book at the Merefest
The book has received excellent reviews in the press, and sales have progressed well. The book contains a wealth of information, including:
- Accounts of the life stages of all 41 butterfly species to be found in our region, with excellent photographs
- Details of rare migrants and extinct species
- Descriptions of the main physical features of the region and its key habitats
- Information on the impact of climate change
- A chapter on how to encourage butterflies into your garden
- A history of recording in the region
- 25 walks highlighting the best butterfly sites in the region
Sample pages from 'Butterflies of the West Midlands'
Anyone who would like to buy a copy, which contains 154 pages and costs £18.95, can contact me or go to www.naturebureau.co.uk
Prees Heath Warden
Butterfly Conservation West Midlands Branch