One Saturday in February a small group of part-time students from Reaseheath College near Nantwich visited the reserve. They are all mature students who have jobs and are contemplating a career change reflecting their interest in environmental issues. After a two hour guided walk talking to them about the heathland habitat and the ongoing restoration work they did some filming of the reserve using a camera mounted on a drone. First of all I had to liaise with Tilstock Skydive across the A41 to ensure that it was safe to launch the drone, and, after a couple of technical hitches, it took to the skies. Shown below are a couple of the photos taken, and the students also filmed some video footage. It gives a different perspective on the reserve, and we hope to do some more filming at a later date.
One of the features the drone highlighted was the heather mowing on the Hangars field. Here Lucy Morton, BC Reserves Officer, and me have been mowing different areas of heather that has either become tall and leggy or has been infected by heather beetle. As you can see, we are experimenting with mowing different shapes rather than rectangles. It will be interesting to see if the flora that ensues will be more diverse than previously.
Butterfly Conservation celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. As part of the celebrations volunteers from across the country carried out habitat improvement works on Saturday 10th March, which was termed a Day of Action. At Prees Heath our volunteers cleared birch saplings at the southern end of the Corner field to prevent more encroachment onto this heathland restoration area. It was a cold day, wet in the afternoon, but we had a bonfire to keep us warm. It took some time to get going, but thanks to the perseverance of Allan Dawes and Clive Dyer we did succeed eventually. Earlier on the day I gave an interview on BBC Radio Shropshire.
Visitors to the reserve may have noticed that some tree work has been carried out along the access track. This will give easier access to the two properties at the far end of the track. The work was done by a local professional company of tree surgeons with the approval of Shropshire Council as regards the Tree Protection Order that exists across the whole of Prees Heath Common. The company had a chipper on site so that no arisings were left once they had finished. I have also cut back some gorse along the A49 northwards from where the track meets the road to improve sightlines for drivers.
I continue to give illustrated talks about Prees Heath, its history, restoration, wildlife and the Silver-studded Blue butterfly, and in March I gave a talk to Audlem Wildlife Group in Cheshire. In April I am scheduled to talk to Ellesmere Gardening Club. So please let me know if you would like me to come a give a talk to your group, near or far – I have given talks about Prees Heath as far afield as Sussex, South Wales and Belfast in beautiful Northern Ireland.
In February each year I chair a meeting of the Reserve Support Group, which consists of interested local residents, including Prees Heath commoners. We discuss a range of issues relating to the reserve, not just the wildlife but also public access, dogs, events, site works and anything anybody wishes to raise. To be a member of the group you have to be supportive of the work of Butterfly Conservation on the reserve, and do let me know if you would be interested in joining. Alternatively I am always willing to discuss any aspect of the reserve – you can contact me by phone or email, or come up to me and talk to me if you see me on site.
Lastly, I was fortunate enough to have been nominated for an award regarding the work on the reserve by Natural England, and I received the award at the Wyre Forest Discovery Centre from the Chair of Natural England, Andrew Sells on 28th March. In accepting the award I made it clear that it was really on behalf of Butterfly Conservation, the Prees Heath commoners and supportive local residents, community groups and the many, many people who have helped us along the way.
Prees Heath Warden, Butterfly Conservation
Prees Heath Report December 2017 to January 2018
2018 – and a Happy New Year to everyone, if it’s not too late – is Butterfly Conservation’s 50th anniversary. Founded in 1968, one of its first Presidents was Sir Peter Scott, son of Scott of Antartica and a wildlife conservation pioneer, and its current President is Sir David Attenborough. Prees Heath Common Reserve was purchased by Butterfly Conservation in 2006 as it provides the last remaining sanctuary for the Silver-studded Blue in the Midlands, and, as a lowland heath, it hosts a number of rare or uncommon species, mainly becauseso much lowland heath has been destroyed.
Before Christmas in December the reserve saw copious snowfalls. The reserve looked magical, and many people were out and about with their cameras. Here are a few photographs taken by one of our stalwart volunteers, Janet Verno
There was a large quantity of litter on the reserve this winter. We aimed to clear this before Christmas but on the designated day there was too much snow around, so it was not done until 10th January. We had ten dedicated volunteers who managed to clear enough litter to fill the back of my Ford Ranger pick-up. So a big thankyou to them. Anyone visiting the reserve can pick up litter and dispose of it responsibly, and I would also like to thank those who do – it makes such a difference.
On 10th January the volunteers also did some wildlife recording, and made the following records: Green Woodpecker, FieldfareRedwing, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Blackbird, Robin, Carrion Crow, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tit, Kestrel, Meadow Pipit, Matchstick fungus,Purple Hairstreak butterfly egg, a small unidentified rodent andRabbits.Making wildlife records helps us to monitor the diversity that is to be found on the reserve, and it is also educational and fun. With this in mind we are holding a Butterfly Conservation 50th Anniversary BioBlitz on Thursday 19th July, recording as many species as possible in one day. A date for your diary, it will be open to the public, and more details will follow later.
The volunteers also planted a Scots Pine tree near the reserve gates, donated by The Woodland Trust as part of their Tree Charter project. The photo was taken by BC Reserves Officer Lucy Morton.
Over the years the reserve has been the site for three Masters in Science student projects, with students from Birmingham University, Harper Adams University and Manchester Metropolitan University. The last two MScs received Distinctions, and have proved very useful in helping us consider management options for the reserve. This spring and summer there will be another MSc student from Harper Adams University doing some survey work on the reserve, this time on planthoppersand leafhoppers, small jumping insects – we have virtually no records for this group to date, so the records will be very welcome. Could there be any rarities out there?
Butterfly Conservation Prees Heath Warden
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