Prees Heath Report June – July 2015
Charles Darwin was a Shropshire Lad. He was born in the family home in Shrewsbury and he went to Shrewsbury School. After Cambridge University and the voyage on HMS Beagle to the Galapagos Islands and elsewhere he returned to the family home. There is, however, no record that he ever went to Prees Heath during some of his field trips in the county. Nevertheless it was good to have 15 pupils and two staff from his alma mater, Shrewsbury School, on the reserve in June. They enjoyed a guided walk around the reserve and afterwards helped to fork out some ragwort rosettes.
The control tower open day in July was a success, with 49 people enjoying a look around the interior of this historic building. It coincided with a guided walk around the reserve to see the Silver-studded Blues. They have had a good season, with numbers up from last year. The especially exciting aspect is that more were seen on the former arable areas that have been restored to heathland, which demonstrates that all the work that was put in some years ago, and in particular the deep ploughing, now is bearing fruit.
Silver-studded Blue female
Pied Flycatcher has been seen on the reserve this summer, and we think Spotted Flycatchers have raised families in two different areas of the reserve. Black-tailed Skimmer dragonflies have been seen at the pond. More evidence that the range of wildlife on the reserve is increasing.
This year’s Big Butterfly Count runs from 17th July to 9th August, so there is still time to get counting butterflies anywhere you like – your garden, nearby fields and hedgerows, Prees Heath, on your holidays if you are going away. It only takes 15 minutes. For more details go to www.butterfly-conservation.org Lucy and I spent a day at Holly Farm Garden Centre near the reserve publicising the Big Butterfly Count.
Prees Heath Warden
The former RAF control tower was conserved just over a year ago. Last year trainees from RAF Shawbury constructed some bat boxes for the interior of the building, and in April of this year the Prees Heath volunteers spent a day making and installing some additional bat boxes and some nesting sites for Swallows, amid much sawing and hammering. The wood that used to board up the windows of the building was used to make the boxes, and a coconut was also used to provide a Swallow nesting site, although the consensus was that it may be too small. So far there has been no evidence of any of the sites being used, but it is early days. The Swift boxes on the exterior of the building have been used by Starlings and House Sparrows, and Blackbirds have nested in the one of the vents. The hibernating butterflies and moths have all now left the building.
Spring has arrived at last, although it has been unseasonably cool. It is always an interesting time botanically. Prees Heath is the sole site in the county for Heath Dog-violet, which has again flowered in good numbers this year and appears to be spreading its range on the reserve. Its slate blue flowers, somewhat paler than Common Dog-violet, can easily be spotted in the grassland. Another speciality of the site is Shepherd’s Cress, a small plant with a cluster of white flowers held on an upright stem. This plant is indicative of the acid grassland on the reserve, and this photo was taken by Janet Vernon.
The dog mess on the reserve has become much worse. Since Butterfly Conservation purchased the site in 2006 much work has been done to make it suitable and enjoyable for the public, and a majority of dog walkers do use the dog waste bin provided and emptied weekly by Shropshire Council. The problem is that a minority of dog walkers do not clear up after their dogs, and this is not only a health hazard and unpleasant but also it contaminates the soil and damages the Site of Special Scientific Interest. I talk to many dog walkers about the importance of being responsible for their dogs, and any assistance members of the public can give in this respect would be welcome.
Late May and early June is the best time to find Silver-studded Blue caterpillars interacting with ants. It is a real ‘wow’ moment when one is found – they are tiny, it’s a hands-and-knees job, and the best way to locate them is to firstly find the ants. As well as these caterpillars, another speciality of the reserve is the Garden Tiger moth, the hairy caterpillars being known as ‘wooly bears’. They can often be seen travelling at high speed in the grassland.
A Green Hairstreak butterfly was recorded on the reserve for the first time since purchase last year, and has been seen again this year. This dainty butterfly is unmistakable as it is the only green butterfly to be found in Britain. It was found taking nectar from the blossom of one of many apple trees to be found on the reserve, along with a Beautiful Yellow Underwing moth.
Finally an opportunity for all you photographers out there – see the poster on the front page of the website for details of free photography training on the reserve, and a competition, all organised by the Meres & Mosses.
A really great photograph by Kate Long of one of the skylarks residing on the Prees Heath Common Reserve.