Planting plug plants of Bell Heather has been the main focus of work on the reserve in recent weeks. After the Prees Heath volunteers planted 5,000 in September, in October this was followed by 22 trainees from RAF Shawbury planting another 5,000. All these were planted on the Corner field, south of the access track. The RAF Shawbury trainees also hand harvested seed of Bell Heather, which will be put to good use later on.
Later in October 22 sixth form students from Ellesmere College planted another 2,000 Bell Heather plugs in one afternoon, this time on the southern end of the Hangars field. Finally 12 first year undergraduates from Harper Adams University planted 3,400 more Bell Heather plugs on the East of Runway field. So a total of 15,400 plugs have been planted, and there will be a few more ready for planting sometime next year. A feature of the work on the reserve is to involve as many different community groups as possible.Most the heather that has been established on the restoration areas is Common Heather, but there is substantial amounts of Bell Heather on the rest of the reserve and it is important that we get it established across the whole area as far as is possible. Bell Heather provides a source on nectar for the Silver-studded Blues in June and July when it flowers.
One plant which we would welcome less of is New Zealand Pygmyweed, Crassula helmsii. Regrettably it has colonised the northern end of the pond, forming dense mats which choke out other plants. Getting rid of this invasive plant is nigh on impossible, so our efforts will be aiming to control its spread as much as we can. The Prees Heath volunteers have been pulling out sackfuls of the plant by the roots, and we will see what effect this has had before we consider any further action. I have been told that a biological control based on a gall-forming mite is currently being tested, but even if the tests are successful this will not be available for a few years yet. It is well known that even a tiny fragment of the plant can put down roots and spread.
I have received reports from members of the public of people hunting rabbits on the reserve with ferrets and dogs. The Police were contacted and spoke to the people concerned who were hunting the rabbits. They were told that rabbit hunting is not permitted on the reserve, and I am grateful to anyone who alerts me about this.
Finally, as many will know, funding of the Meres & Mosses Landscape Partnership Scheme ended recently. The reserve has benefited from the project in several ways, most notably regarding the conservation work on the former RAF control tower. The project’s final gift was a large cartoon about the history of Prees Heath Common. This can be viewed on the Home page of this website. The original is very large (170 x 120cm approximately) and we will consider how best, and how safely, to display it in the future.
Volunteer Warden, Prees Heath Common Reserve
Butterfly Conservation West Midlands Branch