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.
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.
Prees Heath Warden
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)
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.
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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)
- 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