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
The volunteers have been busy during the autumn. Their main task has been clearing brambles and birch saplings from the SSSI parts of the reserve, that is to say those areas which were not in arable cultivation prior to purchase by Butterfly Conservation. If we did not do this the open heathland would be lost and it would become scrub woodland instead. To assist in dealing with the birch saplings we now have new tools called Tree-poppers. These are in effect long and heavy levers which grip the stem of the sapling at the base and then muscle power is used to press down on the lever to pull up the sapling by the roots. Below is a photo of one of the volunteers using it, and also of the volunteers installing new waymarker posts for the Silver-studded Blue walk after removing the old rotten ones.
The volunteers have also been busy hand-harvesting bell heather seed. We have contracted a local company to provide us with bell heather plugs grown from seed harvested on the reserve, which should have been ready for planting this autumn, but unfortunately they have had difficulty in getting the seed to germinate, and the earliest any plugs will be ready is now the autumn of 2017.
Two small moths have been found on the reserve this autumn. It is believed that Acleris hyemana (it has no common name) has not been recorded on the reserve since 1960. It is a resident moth that is found on wet and dry heaths that hibernates as an adult. The Rush Veneer (Nomophila noctuella) is a migrant that comes here from southern Europe and northern Africa, and is more often seen in coastal localities rather than somewhere like Shropshire.
Staying with moths, we also found large numbers of caterpillars clustered on single small trees. These were the caterpillars of the Buff-tip, an intriguing moth that as an adult closely resembles a birch twig, presumably as a form of camouflage defence.
Most dog owners who use the reserve are responsible and clean up after their dog and use the bin provided. However, sadly a minority do not do this and recently a letter I wrote about this was published in the Shropshire Star and Whitchurch Herald. Dog mess is a health hazard, damages the soils and the plant life and makes walking on the reserve an obstacle course to make sure you do not tread in it. We have now started spraying dog mess with eco-friendly pink chalk paint to highlight the problem. Any further suggestions as to how we might tackle this problem are welcome – please do not hesitate to contact me.
Butterfly Conservation West Midlands Branch has been very busy preparing a book to be published next spring entitled ‘Butterflies of the West Midlands’. I have written the chapter on the Silver-studded Blue, with Prees Heath being its sole site in the region. Watch this website for more details and how you can purchase a copy. Butterfly Conservation is a membership organisation – it’s remarkably inexpensive to join – and for your membership you get three copies a year of our Butterfly magazine and three copies a year of the West Midlands newsletter, which I edit, as well as the knowledge that you are supporting the work we do in conserving Britain’s butterflies and moths.
Prees Heath Warden
Weed control continues to be a significant issue, and in particular ragwort, docks, thistles, rosebay willowherb and birch. We try to tackle this problem in a number of different ways, always seeking new and better approaches. This year we had contractors spot spraying ragwort rosettes in the spring and hand-pulling it in August. On the East of Runway field there is far too much rosebay willowherb, as well as a proliferation of birch seedlings. However there is a pot of heather growing underneath these weeds, and so we decided that using a mechanical weed wiper – a rotating brush containing herbicide, set at the desired height – would hopefully control the weeds without affecting the heather. We were able to borrow a weed wiper from the National Trust, and in August a contractor weed wiped the weed-infested areas of the East of Runway field. To date results seem encouraging, but this is something we will have to repeat year on year.
Birch regeneration is a problem not just on the restoration areas but also on the runway and other parts of the SSSI. We now have a new tool to deal with this problem – a Tree-popper! This is in effect a big lever which grips the base of the stem and then, with pressure applied, levers the sapling out of the ground, roots and all. It can remove quite big saplings, but they have to get to a minimum size before the tool can be used otherwise the sapling just snaps off and will regrow. Many of the birch saplings on the runway have now been removed. The photo shows a volunteer using the tree-popper on a birch sapling.
Prees Heath continues to attract wildlife recorders from across the county. The Shropshire Invertebrate Group had a productive day on the reserve early in September – it is amazing how many different species of insects the reserve supports. The photo shows a Tree Damsel Bug found on the day.
The pond keeps providing a number of new records for the reserve. This year there were several Black-tailed Skimmer dragonflies flying over and around the pond. Janet Vernon, one of our dedicated volunteers and also a botanist, found some new species around the pond – Oregano, Wild Basil and Greater Spearwort - and in addition I found Devil’s-bit Scabious there as well. Since some ornamental goldfish, which are harmful to our native wildlife, were introduced into the pond we have had a heron as a welcome regular visitor, and an angler has been busy fishing as many as possible out and passing them to a local school.
The heathland restoration work on the reserve continues to receive national attention. In September I gave a talk about Prees Heath to the Heathland Forum of the South Downs National Park in Sussex, where a lot of heathland restoration work is being carried out.
Prees Heath Warden
Butterfly Conservation will be hosting a Moth Evening at Prees Heath Common Reserve on Friday 11th September starting at 8.00pm. We hope to see the wonderfully camouflaged Merveille du Jour and the beautiful Canary-shouldered Thorn amongst others.
|Canary-shouldered Thorn||Merveille du Jour|
The event is free. Please bring a torch and some warm clothing. Meet on the access track opposite the Steel Heath turning off the A49. Children must be accompanied by an adult. For more information contact Stephen Lewis, Warden, on 07900 886809, especially in the event of poor weather.