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Aug - Sep 2013 Report



Friday 9th August was Moth Night, when people all over the UK get out their moth traps and record the nation’s moth fauna, and this was followed by a Moth Breakfast on the Saturday morning when the traps were opened and people could see (and photograph) what was caught before the moths were released. For once the weather was near perfect (dry, warm and still) and at Prees Heath we had a very successful evening with a total of 74 species. Later that month West Midlands moth expert Dave Grundy did an overnight session on the reserve using several traps and his catch included the nationally scarce micro-moth Crambus hamella, a moth that likes sandy places.



NS CrambusHamella


Crambus hamella



We continued to remove Common Ragwort from the site in accordance with Defra’s Code of Practice on Controlling the Spread of Ragwort. This means we try to keep it from spreading onto neighbouring sites where horses graze or where the fields are used to produce winter fodder. The Code makes it clear that the intention is not to eliminate Ragwort, part of our native flora, especially as it is beneficial to a whole range of insects, including the Cinnabar Moth as the caterpillars eat its leaves. Many thanks to the volunteers who helped with this task. In addition to their efforts, we also arranged for staff from a local contractor, AR Richards, to spend a day clearing one particular area. Already I have started knapsack spraying the basal rosettes of next year’s flowering plants to reduce the amount we have to remove by pulling. 


Work has continued on the project to carry out some restoration works on the former RAF control tower. As the land is registered common, an application has been made to the Planning Inspectorate to erect temporary security fencing around the building while the works are carried out, and to construct two soakaways for the rainwater. Shropshire Council has already granted a Certificate of Lawful Development for the works to the building itself. A series of 6 information panels is planned for the exterior of the building telling the whole history of the common from the last ice age to the present day, and as more research is done more interesting stories emerge – do contact me if you feel you have anything you would like to contribute. Most people know that the common was a WW2 bomber training airfield, but did you know that Horsa gliders used in the D-Day landings were also based here. A replica of one of these gliders is being constructed at RAF Shawbury. 





Horsa glider under construction at RAF Shawbury



We continue to work on the restoration of the reserve to heathland and acid grassland, and to monitor the results thus far. The field in front of the old hangars is now full of heather, and this is now providing us with a seed source for other areas, principally the field on the south side of the access track. On the other side of the runway thousands of heather plants are now getting established, although in one patch they are having to compete with Rosebay Willowherb, an invasive plant that we will have to control. 


A group of students on a Countryside Management course at Stafford College spent a day on the reserve in September. As well as having a guided walk around the site they helped to remove some birch seedlings from the restoration areas and also hand-harvested some Bell Heather seeds which will be broadcast on the restoration areas. They were an enthusiastic group and it was a pleasure to be with them and their tutor, Liz Stanhope.





Stafford College students hand-harvesting Bell Heather seed



The reserve is receiving support from the Meres and Mosses Landscape Partnership Scheme to carry out restoration work on the control tower, and Butterfly Conservation is a partner organisation to the whole project. A big public Meres and Mosses celebration event called Merefest was held at Cholmondeley Castle in Cheshire on 24th September and was attended by well over 1,000 people. There were many stalls, lots for people to do and a really great time was had by all. Butterfly Conservation had a stall, where we not only gave lots of information about the reserve, including the control tower, explained how people can get involved to help butterflies and moths, how to become a member of Butterfly Conservation (it’s so easy!), displayed live moths trapped the night before, but also gave children the opportunity to make a caterpillar or a butterfly out of coloured pipe-cleaners. We were very busy. The event was a huge success and will be repeated next year. 




Lucy Lewis at Butterfly Conservation’s stall at Merefest



Over the last few years I have given many talks to local community groups about Prees Heath. Recently I gave an evening talk to the Stone and District Group of Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, which was well attended. After many of these talks the group wants to arrange a follow-up by visiting the reserve with me when the Silver-studded Blue butterflies are flying, and I have already arranged a date in 2014 with them, so bookings are now being taken for next year’s Silver-studded Blue season, as well as for talks to any community groups.



Stephen Lewis


Prees Heath Warden


Spotted Flycatcher

A Spotted Flycatcher family have been in residence on the reserve for the last few weeks.  They have all been very busy catching insects and preparing for their long journey back to sub-Saharan Africa.

Unfortunately this species has shown a 56% decrease in England over the period 1995-1911.  (Information from the British Trust for Ornithology) 




(Photograph by Stephen Lewis)


Fungi Foray

Prees Heath Common Reserve is a great place to visit for a fungi foray,

At the present time you can see some excellent specimens of Parasol (Macrolepiota procera)  which are located  not far from the Control Tower.  The photographs below were taken on 4 consecutive days to illustrate the rapid growth.  The diameter of the larger specimen was 8.5 inches (21.6 cms) when measured on the 4th  day.  The identity was confirmed with help from iSpot.   

 iSpot is a website aimed at helping anyone identify anything in nature.  


Parasol18th Parasol19th
18th Augst 2013 19th August 2013
parasol20th parasol21st
20th August 2013 21st August 2013



Moth Trapping (19 Aug 2013)

Moth trapping took place on the reserve.  Highlights included Heath Rustic, Neglected Rustic, Crescent, Bulrush Wainscot and Crambus hamella.  The last one is a micro moth and Prees Heath is believed to be the only site in the county for this species, and it probably only occurs on one other site in the West Midlands. (Thanks to Dave Grundy for this report)

June - July 2013 Report

The first Silver-studded Blues of the season were seen on Tuesday 25th June. Whilst this may have been somewhat later than in recent years, it is normal for them to start to emerge around the time the Wimbledon tournament begins, and it was not as late as some of the spring species have been. 
13 volunteers helped to carry out a count of the whole Silver-studded Blue colony on Friday 5th July – not just on the reserve but also on the runways on the other half of the common and in the hangars compound alongside the A49. The weather was fine and sunny, and the total count was 1,049. 1,012 males were recorded, and just 37 females. This begs the question, that has been asked many times, are there more males than females, or is it that the males emerge first and that the females are harder to spot because of their darker colour and because they tend to be lower down in the vegetation – or maybe a combination of these factors. What do you think? The last time the whole colony was counted was in 2011, when the total was 3,364, and the comparatively low count this year may be a reflection of the poor summer weather-wise in 2012. My thanks to everyone who took part, including two members of staff from the NFU Mutual office in Wem.
However, it now seems we did the Big Count a week too soon. A Silver-studded Blue transect has been walked annually at Prees Heath since 1991, and produces year-on-year data as to how the butterfly is faring. It not only includes the reserve but also runways on the other half of the common across the A41 and in the hangars compound alongside the A49. The transect was walked on 12th July and produced record results, slightly more than the previous record year of 2006. Doubtless this is connected to the fact that the weather recently has been hot and sunny. By contrast on a Silver-studded Blue emergence walk on 22nd June no Silver-studded Blues were seen – we were too early! See photo below of the people who came – at least they enjoyed a walk around the reserve and hearing about the heathland/grassland restoration work.
The guided walk ‘Butterflies & Bombers’ took place on the afternoon of Sunday 7th July, with a good attendance despite the fact that it turned out to be Andy Murray’s big day. As well as focusing on the ecology of the Silver-studded Blue the walk took people to the WW2 airfield control tower where we discussed our plans for the building, which include:
  • Conserving it as an historical artefact
  • Repairing the roof and the render, bricking up most of the windows and painting it     in camouflage colours as it was in the war
  • Installing a secure door so that it will be accessible on guided walks and  educational events
  • Installing a series of information panels around the exterior of the building telling the whole geological, natural, military and social history of Prees Heath Common
  • Providing suitable habitat for birds and bats
Work will be carried out by the Meres & Mosses Landscape Partnership Scheme and delivered by Butterfly Conservation, members of the Partnership. The public are being asked to contribute their stories, images, photographs, memories, paintings, souvenirs etc so that the entire story of the common will be told, so please get in touch if you have anything that you feel may be of interest.
Children from Clive Primary School visited Prees Heath on 16th July and had a great time identifying and counting butterflies, other insects and doing some pond dipping – 
One of the Prees Heath commoners died recently, Reg Moreland. He had been a strong defender of the common for many years, including when it was threatened with sand and gravel extraction. Everyone who now visits the reserve to appreciate it as a beautiful place, a place for people and wildlife, owes much to him and his fellow commoners. He was a rare individual, with an unerring sense of the importance of fighting for justice for the common and the holders of commoners rights. A memorial gathering was held on the reserve on Saturday 20th July attended by his family and friends, around 60 people in all, including a horse and cart. Friends and family read out their own tributes and Eleanor Cooke, author of ‘Who Killed Prees Heath?’ read a poem she had written specially for the occasion. 
 Much of the work on the reserve involves the re-creation of heathland and grassland on the former arable areas, which constitute half the area of the site. Controlling weeds such as ragwort, docks, thistles and rosebay willowherb is essential. 8 volunteers did sterling work pulling up ragwort on Wednesday 10th July, and the next ragwort pulling session will be on Wednesday 7th August starting at 10.30am at the reserve entrance – please come if you can, if only for a couple of hours. Gloves and sacks are provided