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)|
|Water Scorpion (Kirsty Brown)||Silver-studded Blue caterpillar (Stephen Barlow)
|Green Tiger Beetle (Stephen Barow)
||Looking for the caterpillar (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.
Prees Heath Warden
Butterfly Conservation West Midlands Branch
The volunteers and various groups have been active on the reserve in the last two months. Volunteers cleared brambles from part of the SSSI – if this work is not done the brambles will become invasive and suppress the grasses and wildflowers. So, although they do provide fruits in the late summer, home to many insects and shelter and nesting sites for birds, they have to be controlled. It is a case of striking a balance, like much of the work carried out on the reserve, to ensure that a mosaic of habitats to benefit a range of species is maintained. The volunteers also did a litter pick of the reserve in February in the most appalling weather – driving rain and cold – so many thanks to them. It is always good to meet and greet new volunteers, and anyone who would like to help out on the reserve in any way should just get in touch with me.
Volunteers soaked after the litter pick
Reaseheath College students on the reserve
A neighbouring landowner on the eastern boundary near the path to the pond on the reserve recently erected a tall fence, and the land beyond the fence is now being cultivated. We decided to plant a shelter belt of trees alongside the fence to lessen its visual impact and also to provide suitable habitat for wildlife. Most of the trees were donated by the Woodland Trust, and the remainder were paid for by the Meres & Mosses Landscape Partnership Scheme. The species were much the same as those that were planted along the A41 some years ago – Pedunculate Oak, Grey Willow, Goat Willow, Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Rowan, Holly and Alder Buckthorn. These are species that are already established on the reserve.
Most of the planting was carried out by Year 3 and Year 4 pupils from Prees Primary School, with the remainder planted the following day by students from Reaseheath College near Nantwich. They all worked hard not just to dig the holes for the trees but also to install the canes and guards to protect the trees from the rabbits, which like to nibble the bark and thereby damage or even kill the tree.
Prees Primary School pupils planting trees
Butterfly Conservation purchased the reserve on 30th May 2006, so this year marks its tenth anniversary. To celebrate this we are holding a family-friendly BioBlitz on Sunday 29th May, starting at 2.00pm and finishing in the evening. A BioBlitz is an opportunity to find as many different wildlife species as possible in a given time – birds, butterflies, other insects, pondlife, reptiles, wildflowers, mammals etc. Various experts will be on hand to assist people in identifying the wealth of wildlife that is to be found on the reserve. The event is designed to be very suitable for children (the wildlife custodians of tomorrow!) and their parents, so please contact me if you would like to book places. There will be a BBQ in the evening, and a marquee and portaloos will be available.
Finally, I am going to finish this report on a sadder note. In March I learnt that Eleanor Cooke had died. In 1991 Shropshire Wildlife Trust published a book written by Eleanor entitled ‘Who Killed Prees Heath?’. In the book she poetically describes how the heritage of Prees Heath Common was all but being destroyed, and the book received national publicity on BBC Radio 4. With the Common threatened with sand and gravel extraction at that time, it became an important feature of the Save Prees Heath Common Campaign, which led to the purchase of the western half of the Common by Butterfly Conservation in 2006 and subsequent restoration work. Everyone connected with the campaign to save the Common is grateful to Eleanor for her unique contribution in giving expression to what so many people passionately felt, and continue to feel as only half the Common has been saved and restored. I still have some copies of the book available, priced at £5.00 each, and please contact me if you would like to purchase one.
Eleanor Cooke's book
Prees Heath Warden
The mercury lamp was blindingly bright,
blackening the surrounding night,
a Buff-tip appeared, pale wings a-flap,
he was lured by the light into the trap.
Secure in shady egg-box ‘caves’.
Green Carpets, Heralds and Riband Waves.
With pretty names like Puss Moth, Purple Thorn and Burnished Brass,
they flew in from surrounding trees, some settled on the grass;
with bodies furry-coated to guard against the cold,
patterned wings exquisite, some delicate – some bold.
Shouts of delight – a Lime Hawk-moth was seen!
dove grey, soft pink, and a pale olive green.
Circling, bird-like, he perched on someone’s arm,
his scalloped wings quivering, so trusting and calm.
Then all at once a flurry of moths flew in from everywhere,
and landed on our clothing, on our books and in our hair.
Much laughter, swishing nets and capturing in pots,
we identified Peach Blossom and a Magpie with black spots.
Too soon our moth encounter ends,
we shook the ‘caves’ and freed our friends.
The show was almost over, and with ghostly fluttering flight,
they said ‘Goodbye’, and silently, flew off into the night.
|Buff-tip Moth||Small Magpie Moth|
This is always the quietest time of the year on the heath, and this year not much has happened at all. The mild weather has led a number of birds remaining present on the reserve rather than retreating into gardens as there has continued to be food available for them. Goldcrests have been seen on the reserve again, one of the smallest British birds.
The volunteers were busy before Christmas cutting back brambles on the area leading up to the old airfield hangars. Here, and elsewhere on the reserve, we are noticing an increasing amount of heather in the grassland. One theory as to why this is happening is that the rabbit numbers have decreased, leading to less nibbling of the heather. More work is due to be done this year on cutting back brambles, although we will make sure that sufficient are left as they do provide a food source for birds and for visitors. After their bramble bashing session the volunteers enjoyed a lunch at the Midway café.
We have now had the presence of bats confirmed in the old airfield control tower by an expert analysis of some droppings underneath one of the roosting structures we installed. This is good news, although we have to be very careful now not to disturb any bats in the future as they are legally protected animals. At this stage we are not able to identify which species of bat is using the building. As well as bats we have a number of hibernating butterflies and moths using the building – on 28th January this year 26 Small Tortoiseshells, 12 Peacocks and 6 Herald moths were counted in the building.
On 30th May 2006 Butterfly Conservation purchased the site, so this year marks the tenth anniversary of the reserve. It is good to think back to what the site looked like before purchase, with half of it used to grow crops, a long-standing traveller encampment, rubbish strewn all over, a feeling of dereliction and very few visitors, and compare it to what it is like today. In celebration we will be holding special public events, one on Sunday 29th May and another on Sunday 3rd July – keep an eye on the website for further details.
I continue to give talks about Prees Heath, and gave one in January to the Bridgnorth Branch of Shropshire Wildlife Trust, the 47th talk about the reserve I have given in the last 10 years. So I am always happy to give an illustrated talk to any interested group locally or further afield – last year I gave talks in Surrey and Sussex, and later this year I will be giving one on the Wirral – do contact me if you would like me to give a talk in your area.
Prees Heath Warden