This time of the year sees the most visitors to the reserve, some of whom come from far and wide – this year we have met visitors from Inverness in Scotland and Kilkenny in the Irish Republic. The main reason for this is, of course, the Silver-studded Blue butterfly, and this year it was to be seen in high numbers. It was somewhat earlier than usual, with the first sighting on 11th June. Numbers peaked in the last week in June, so by the time the Prees Heath Volunteers did a full count of the butterfly on the reserve and adjacent areas which support parts of the colony on 6th July they were past their peak. Nonetheless, 2,954 Silver-studded Blues were recorded on that morning, an astonishing figure. Of particular note is that 226 were recorded on the Hangars Field, the first area we restored to heathland.
Silver-studed Blue (Photo by Les Price)
Staying with heathland restoration, last year we saw that some of the heather on the Hangars Field had turned red at the tips. We thought this might indicate the presence of Heather Beetle, which can defoliate and kill Common Heather plants (it does not affect Bell Heather), and this year it is evident that our fears are justified, and the beetle has spread over a wide area and onto the heather on the East of Runway Field. It seems likely that the beetle has been present on the site for years, but it is only recently that numbers have built up to the present infestation. We are now considering what action to take, if any.
Heather Beetle Larva (Photo by Lucy Lewis)
The Silver-studded Blue guided walk always takes place on the first Sunday in July at 2pm, and it is now combined with an open session at the former RAF control tower. This year saw 30 people take part. Access to parts of the building has to be restricted due to the presence of bats, which have been attracted by some of the roosting structures we installed. Sadly, the six swift boxes we installed on the exterior have not yet been colonised by Swifts, although House Sparrows have used at least one of them.
On the guided walk (Photo by Stephen Lewis)
Moth Night and Moth Breakfast on 10th/11th June saw 20 people enjoy a varied catch of moths, some of which were new records for the reserve, such as Bird’s Wing and Peach Blossom. For once, the weather was close to ideal – warm, cloudy but not too wet and still. The theme of Moth Night was Hawk-moths, and we saw three species – Elephant, Small Elephant and Poplar.
Years 3 & 4 at Prees Primary School have been working towards their John Muir Awards this year. In the spring they planted some trees on the eastern boundary of the reserve, and in July they returned to learn more about the Silver-studded Blue butterfly, its life cycle and its heathland habitat, and they counted large numbers of the butterfly. Back at school in the afternoon they role played being Silver-studded Blue caterpillars, ants (friends) and spiders and wasps (enemies). My thanks to Shropshire Wildlife Trust staff and volunteers for their help with this.
Another event on the reserve has been, and returning by popular demand, a photography workshop led by award-winning photographer Mark Sisson. My thanks to the Meres & Mosses Landscape Partnership Scheme for their help with this. In all, and not forgetting the BioBlitz held in May, the 10th anniversary of the reserve has been well and truly celebrated.
We now have evidence that Purple Hairstreak butterflies are using Oaks, the buds and leaves of which are the caterpillar’s sole food plant, on at least three different areas of the reserve. Visitors also had the pleasure of seeing a number of Common Lizards basking on the green concrete blocks by the reserve entrance. A female pink Meadow Grasshopper, an uncommon mutation, was photographed on the reserve and was also featured in the local press.
Purple Hairstreak (Photo by Stephen Lewis)
Pink Meadow Grasshopper (Photo John Harding)
Common Lizard (Photo by John Hill)
Finally, my thanks to the Prees Heath Common Reserve Support Group for sponsoring the Silver-studded Blue chapter in the newly published ‘Butterflies of the West Midlands’ book. In return they received a free copy of the book, which they donated to Whitchurch Library. Copies of the book at £18.95 each are available either by contacting me or by visiting www.naturebureau.co.uk
Donating the new book to Whitchurch Library
L to R Stephen Lewis, Hazel Price (Librarian), Julia Gallacher & Mike Gallacher (Photo by Lucy Lewis)
Prees Heath Warden
Butterfly Conservation West Midlands Branch
11th June 2016 - The photo below was taken today at Prees Heath by Lucy - the first Silver-studded Blue sighting of the season.
Butterfly Conservation is hosting a Moth Evening at Prees Heath Common Reserve on Friday 10th June starting at 9.00pm, followed by a Moth Breakfast on Saturday morning starting at 8.00am to empty the moth trap to find and photograph the moths entered the trap the night before. At this time of year there should be a number of the large Hawk-moths around, such as the brilliant Elephant Hawk-moth.
On 30th May 2006 Butterfly Conservation purchased the western half of Prees Heath Common and set about restoring the site for the benefit of wildlife and visitors, so this year we are celebrating the reserve’s 10th birthday. We decided to hold a Family Funday BioBlitz in partnership with the Meres & Mosses Landscape Partnership Scheme to show how the site has improved for wildlife and how it is now such an enjoyable place to visit.
The event was very successful, the sun shone and 45 people came. A huge amount of wildlife was seen, from wildflowers to insects, from birds to pond creatures, from reptiles to rabbits, totalling over 200 species. Highlights included:
- 3 Micro-moths that have not been recorded on the reserve previously
- A Wolf Spider at its only known site in Shropshire
- A Silver-studded Blue caterpillar attended by ants
- Several Common Lizards basking on the concrete
- A Dingy Skipper butterfly, a first sighting of this species since purchase
- A Water Scorpion and a Water Stick Insect in the pond
After the wildlife watching we provided a BBQ and then members of the Shropshire Astronomical Society set up telescopes for some planet gazing. Here are some photos.
|Prees Heath 10yr BioBlitz|
|Pond Dipping (Kirsty Brown)||Cinnabar moth (Kirsty Brown)|
|Water Scorpion (Kirsty Brown)||Silver-studded Blue caterpillar (Stephen Barlow)
|Green Tiger Beetle (Stephen Barow)
||Looking for the caterpillar (Kirsty Brown)|
|Mother Shipton moth (Kirsty Brown)
||Heath Dog-violet (Kirsty Brown)|
On other matters, two Brown Long-eared Bats were found roosting in the former RAF control tower by a representative of the Shropshire Bat Group. This is the first confirmed sighting of bats roosting in the building since the reserve was purchased, and will have implications for public access. The bats were located behind panels installed by our volunteers. A group of air traffic control trainees from RAF Shawbury visited the building in April.
The volunteers have been busy clearing birch saplings from the corner field and removing ragwort rosettes. Some repair work has been completed to the access track, but this remains a continuing area of concern for us as it is the third time since purchase we have done this and potholes re-appear all too quickly.
Prees Heath Warden
Butterfly Conservation West Midlands Branch
The volunteers and various groups have been active on the reserve in the last two months. Volunteers cleared brambles from part of the SSSI – if this work is not done the brambles will become invasive and suppress the grasses and wildflowers. So, although they do provide fruits in the late summer, home to many insects and shelter and nesting sites for birds, they have to be controlled. It is a case of striking a balance, like much of the work carried out on the reserve, to ensure that a mosaic of habitats to benefit a range of species is maintained. The volunteers also did a litter pick of the reserve in February in the most appalling weather – driving rain and cold – so many thanks to them. It is always good to meet and greet new volunteers, and anyone who would like to help out on the reserve in any way should just get in touch with me.
Volunteers soaked after the litter pick
Reaseheath College students on the reserve
A neighbouring landowner on the eastern boundary near the path to the pond on the reserve recently erected a tall fence, and the land beyond the fence is now being cultivated. We decided to plant a shelter belt of trees alongside the fence to lessen its visual impact and also to provide suitable habitat for wildlife. Most of the trees were donated by the Woodland Trust, and the remainder were paid for by the Meres & Mosses Landscape Partnership Scheme. The species were much the same as those that were planted along the A41 some years ago – Pedunculate Oak, Grey Willow, Goat Willow, Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Rowan, Holly and Alder Buckthorn. These are species that are already established on the reserve.
Most of the planting was carried out by Year 3 and Year 4 pupils from Prees Primary School, with the remainder planted the following day by students from Reaseheath College near Nantwich. They all worked hard not just to dig the holes for the trees but also to install the canes and guards to protect the trees from the rabbits, which like to nibble the bark and thereby damage or even kill the tree.
Prees Primary School pupils planting trees
Butterfly Conservation purchased the reserve on 30th May 2006, so this year marks its tenth anniversary. To celebrate this we are holding a family-friendly BioBlitz on Sunday 29th May, starting at 2.00pm and finishing in the evening. A BioBlitz is an opportunity to find as many different wildlife species as possible in a given time – birds, butterflies, other insects, pondlife, reptiles, wildflowers, mammals etc. Various experts will be on hand to assist people in identifying the wealth of wildlife that is to be found on the reserve. The event is designed to be very suitable for children (the wildlife custodians of tomorrow!) and their parents, so please contact me if you would like to book places. There will be a BBQ in the evening, and a marquee and portaloos will be available.
Finally, I am going to finish this report on a sadder note. In March I learnt that Eleanor Cooke had died. In 1991 Shropshire Wildlife Trust published a book written by Eleanor entitled ‘Who Killed Prees Heath?’. In the book she poetically describes how the heritage of Prees Heath Common was all but being destroyed, and the book received national publicity on BBC Radio 4. With the Common threatened with sand and gravel extraction at that time, it became an important feature of the Save Prees Heath Common Campaign, which led to the purchase of the western half of the Common by Butterfly Conservation in 2006 and subsequent restoration work. Everyone connected with the campaign to save the Common is grateful to Eleanor for her unique contribution in giving expression to what so many people passionately felt, and continue to feel as only half the Common has been saved and restored. I still have some copies of the book available, priced at £5.00 each, and please contact me if you would like to purchase one.
Eleanor Cooke's book
Prees Heath Warden