When Butterfly Conservation purchased the western half of Prees Heath Common in 2006 approximately half of the site had been in intensive agriculture for at least 30 years, growing crops of potatoes, wheat and beans. We launched an ambitious project to restore these areas to lowland heath, knowing that the heathland had been totally destroyed there and that reverting land that was high in nutrients and high pH levels, due to the copious quantities of manures and fertilisers that had been applied to grow crops, back to heathland, which by definition has low nutrient and pH levels, was going to be very difficult. The aim was to extend the heathland habitat not just for the Silver-studded Blue butterfly but for the benefit of all wildlife.
After some radical interventions, which are detailed in the Aspects of Applied Biology paper available on this website as a download, we began to see not only lots of heather but also some Silver-studded Blues flying on these areas, as well as seeing other insect life, including the Black Ants which are essential to the life cycle of the Silver-studded Blue. What we needed to have, however, is evidence that the Silver-studded Blue was starting to use these re-created heathland areas for breeding. This year Natalie Kay, an MSc student from Harper Adams University, has been carrying out various surveys on the re-created areas, and, whilst surveying for ants’ nests she found a Silver-studded Blue caterpillar on one of the nests attended by Black Ants, and she took this photo:
The photo itself may not be of the highest quality, but it represents a very significant outcome for our work.
In May I was able to report the sighting of a Green Hairstreak, the first recorded on the reserve since purchase. Now we have another new species – Essex Skipper. This species needs care in distinguishing it from the Small Skipper, the key differences being:
- the tips of the antennae - black all round as if dipped in ink on the Essex Skipper whereas the Small Skipper only has black on the uppersides of the antennae tips
- the angle of the sex brand on the upperside of the forewing, which are parallel with the forewing leading edge on the Essex Skipper but at a slight angle on the Small Skipper
The Essex Skipper is expanding its range, and it is thought that this may in part be due to the transportation by road of hay which is likely to contain Essex Skipper eggs – it may have reached Prees Heath by literally falling off the back of a lorry!
Many Silver-studded Blues were to be seen this summer and on 30th June Natalie Kay counted over 900 on the runway. Yet it was a below average year. The butterfly naturally form dense dense colonies so even in poor years many can be seen at their peak time, which is usually late June/early July.
Another key event this summer was the official opening of the former RAF control tower on 27th June following the completion of conservation work. Despite persistent rain, over 80 people came, and they also had the opportunity to see the Silver-studded Blues sheltering from the weather. The tower was opened by Martin Noble, whose father used to work in the building in the war, and his family. We were also delighted to have prsent Harry Jondorf and his family - Harry's father Wilhelm Jondorf painted the scenes of the life in the 1940 internment camp that are displayed on one of the panels on the exterior of the building. Harry was also able to give me copies of some additional paintings of the camp by his father (see one below) which will be displayed inside the building, which will be open on guided walks etc as advertised locally.
Butterfly Conservation, Prees Heath Warden
Thanks to Kate Long for providing photographs of the Green Tiger Beetle she sighted on Prees Heath Common Reserve on the 29th June 2014.
Over 300 Silver-studded Blues were recorded on Monday 23rd June 2014 on the runway at Prees Heath by Natalie Kay, MSc student from Harper Adams University.
Butterfly Conservation has historic butterfly and moth records for Prees Heath Common, and these tell us what was present several years ago. Amongst the species that had been recorded there but had not been seen since the site was purchased by Butterfly Conservation in 2006 are Dingy Skipper (a delightful springtime butterfly), Dark Green Fritillary (the only Fritillary to have been recorded on the Common) and Green Hairstreak (Britain’s sole green butterfly). 24 species have however been recorded since purchase, but that figure has now increased to 25! On Sunday 18th May I accompanied a group of people on the Whitchurch Walking Weekend across Prees Heath, and one of the party spotted a Green Hairstreak on a willow tree on the main runway. Lucy Lewis was able to photograph it later that day, and here it is:
The caterpillars of Green Hairstreak will feed on a variety of plants, including Gorse, Broom, Bramble and Bird’s-foot Trefoil, all of which are present on the site. It has been a mystery to us that the butterfly has not been seen previously, but its appearance now has been very welcome. We think it was probably a male searching for females within a territory. It flies throughout May and June, so it is still worth keeping a look-out for it over the next few weeks – it cannot be confused with anything else!
The building work on the exterior of the control tower was completed at the end of March. Attention has now shifted to the interior, where many of the walls were covered in obscene graffiti. During the weekend of 10th/11th May twelve trainees and two staff from RAF Shawbury donned overalls and gave some of the walls two coats of white paint to cover the graffiti and to increase the light factor on the inside. They also constructed two nesting boxes and some roosting sites for bats for the interior. They were a good group and were a pleasure to work with. The photo shows Cpl Williams with AC Harrison holding a bat box they made:
Six swift boxes have been installed on the exterior, and so far a family of Blue Tits and a family of House Sparrows have occupied two of them. I will be encouraging swifts to take up occupancy by playing a CD of swift calls (available from the Swift Conservation Trust) to attract them. Funding for the control tower project came from the Heritage Lottery Fund through the Meres & Mosses Project and Natural England through Higher Level Stewardship. In May the members of the Meres & Mosses Board, including people from the RSPB, Shropshire Wildlife Trust, Cheshire Wildlife Trust, Environment Agency, Natural England and Shropshire Council visited the building prior to holding a Board Meeting at Tilstock.
In April the volunteers helped to dig up birch seedlings on the East of Runway field. They also stripped the turf in two small plots in the grassy area on the other side of the runway – heather seed was sown in one of these plots as an experiment. The turf was used to repair part of the footpath in the centre of the runway that had become very eroded and was nothing more than a sandpit. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like to volunteer to help to look after the reserve – we always work on a Wednesday, and the next date is 9th July when we will be ragwort pulling.
Finally, there has been a fair amount of rain around recently, and I spotted these wet Common Blues butterflies on a piece of grass recently. They are not to be confused with the Silver-studded Blue which usually emerges around mid June – the white patches near the centre of the undersides of the hindwings clearly visible in this photograph tell us they are Common Blues.
Prees Heath Warden
Whilst accompanying a group of walkers on the Whitchurch Walking Weekend on Prees Heath, Stephen Lewis, Prees Heath Officer reported that one of the walkers spotted a Green Hairstreak butterfly - this is the first sighting of this species since Butterfly Conservation purchased the site in 2006, and takes the butterfly species total recorded on the site since purchase up to 25. It was on a willow tree on the main runway. A photo of the very one can be seen below, taken by Lucy Lewis.