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Prees Heath Report August to September 2016

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 



Stephen Lewis

Prees Heath Warden

Butterfly Conservation West Midlands Branch

07900 886809

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Prees Heath Report June & July 2016


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)






Stephen Lewis

Prees Heath Warden

Butterfly Conservation West Midlands Branch

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

07900 886809


First Silver-studded Blue of 2016

11th June 2016 - The photo below was taken today at Prees Heath by Lucy - the first Silver-studded Blue sighting of the season.


Moth Evening 10th June 2016

Butterfly Conservation is hosting a Moth Evening at Prees Heath Common Reserve on Friday 10th June starting at 9.00pm, followed by a Moth Breakfast on Saturday morning starting at 8.00am to empty the moth trap to find and photograph the moths entered the trap the night before. At this time of year there should be a number of the large Hawk-moths around, such as the brilliant Elephant Hawk-moth.





Meet on the access track opposite the Steel Heath turning off the A49. Wear appropriate clothing and bring a torch. For more information please contact Stephen Lewis on 07900 886809 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 



April - May 2016 Report


On 30th May 2006 Butterfly Conservation purchased the western half of Prees Heath Common and set about restoring the site for the benefit of wildlife and visitors, so this year we are celebrating the reserve’s 10th birthday. We decided to hold a Family Funday BioBlitz in partnership with the Meres & Mosses Landscape Partnership Scheme to show how the site has improved for wildlife and how it is now such an enjoyable place to visit. 


The event was very successful, the sun shone and 45 people came. A huge amount of wildlife was seen, from wildflowers to insects, from birds to pond creatures, from reptiles to rabbits, totalling over 200 species. Highlights included:

  • 3 Micro-moths that have not been recorded on the reserve previously
  • A Wolf Spider at its only known site in Shropshire
  • A Silver-studded Blue caterpillar attended by ants
  • Several Common Lizards basking on the concrete
  • A Dingy Skipper butterfly, a first sighting of this species since purchase
  • A Water Scorpion and a Water Stick Insect in the pond 

After the wildlife watching we provided a BBQ and then members of the Shropshire Astronomical Society set up telescopes for some planet gazing. Here are some photos.


Prees Heath 10yr BioBlitz   
 Pond-dipping-(Kirsty-Brown)    Cinnabar-moth-(Kirsty-Brown)
 Pond Dipping (Kirsty Brown)    Cinnabar moth (Kirsty Brown)
Water-Scorpion-(Kirsty-Brown)   Silver-studded-Blue-caterpillar-(Stephen-Barlow)
 Water Scorpion (Kirsty Brown)   Silver-studded Blue caterpillar (Stephen Barlow)
Green-Tiger-Beetle-(Stephen-Barlow)     Looking-for-the-caterpillar-(Kirsty-Brown)
Green Tiger Beetle (Stephen Barow) 
  Looking for the caterpillar (Kirsty Brown) 
 Mother-Shipton-moth-(Kirsty-Brown)    Heath-Dog-violet-(Kirsty-Brown)
Mother Shipton moth (Kirsty Brown)
   Heath Dog-violet (Kirsty Brown)




On other matters, two Brown Long-eared Bats were found roosting in the former RAF control tower by a representative of the Shropshire Bat Group. This is the first confirmed sighting of bats roosting in the building since the reserve was purchased, and will have implications for public access. The bats were located behind panels installed by our volunteers. A group of air traffic control trainees from RAF Shawbury visited the building in April.


The volunteers have been busy clearing birch saplings from the corner field and removing ragwort rosettes. Some repair work has been completed to the access track, but this remains a continuing area of concern for us as it is the third time since purchase we have done this and potholes re-appear all too quickly. 


Stephen Lewis

Prees Heath Warden

Butterfly Conservation West Midlands Branch