By now the butterfly season is generally over, with just a few stragglers on the wing before the frosts set in. And yet this is not the full story. All butterflies and moths have 4 stages of life, with different species overwintering as eggs, caterpillars, chrysalises or adults, and now is a good time to do some butterfly egg hunting. Most people do not associate butterflies with trees, but there are a few species that will spend most of their lives around trees. One of these is the Purple Hairstreak, and on the reserve there are a good number of oak trees where colonies of these butterflies live. Many of these oaks tend to have branches close to the ground and are therefore ideal for spotting the eggs of the Purple Hairstreak at this time of year. The eggs are round, disc-shaped with an intricate pattern, not dissimilar to the eggs of the Silver-studded Blue, and are laid by the females near the tip of the twigs close to a cluster of buds which will provide the caterpillar with an instant supply of food when they hatch in the spring. The adults fly in July and have a purple flash on the upperside of their wings, although they tend to rest mainly with their wings closed. Here is a Purple Hairstreak egg I photographed on the oak trees on the western side of the reserve on 27th November.
Purple Hairstreak egg
Birch seedlings continue to appear on the former arable areas we are restoring to heathland/grassland. 12 volunteers got busy on 30th October removing as many as we could on the Hangars Field, along with brambles and willows. I followed this up by spot spraying weeds, mainly ragwort, on all the heathland restoration areas – an ongoing and seemingly endless task. On part of the East of Runway area (approximately 1 hectare) we have too much rosebay willowherb which is competing with the heather seedlings, and removing this without killing off the heather is not straightforward. Various options have been considered and professional advice sought, and the problem will be tackled next year.
Lucy and I ran a stall at the Blackberry Fair in Whitchurch on 5th October. We were well positioned outside Stead and Simpson’s shoe shop at one of the main access points to the centre of the town, and, with good weather and lots of people, we had a great time. In previous years the Fair has been held indoors in the Civic Centre, but as this was being refurbished the Fair was held in the streets this year, and this certainly contributed to its success. Making caterpillars and butterflies out of pipe cleaners was particularly popular.
At the Blackberry Fair
Work has been progressing on the project to carry out some restoration work on the former RAF control tower, and I hope to be able to make an announcement about this very soon – keep watching the website! Meanwhile the 6 information panels telling the whole history of Prees Heath Common from the last ice age to the present day which will be attached to the exterior of the building have already been completed – they were being funded from a different source (Leader) from the building works. Many thanks to all those who contributed images and information for their design. The 6 panels focus on:
- The Geology of Prees Heath
- The World War One Camp
- The World War Two Internment Camp and POW Camp
- The World War Two Airfield
- The Heritage of the Common
- The Silver-studded Blue and Lowland Heath
All the panels are A1 size, all of similar design, and here is the sample:
Students from Reaseheath College and Staffordshire University have enjoyed guided walks on the reserve as part of their studies, and in particular learning about heathland restoration. I am planning next year that they will also carry out some practical work on the reserve as well, as was the case with students from Stafford College back in September. I am also hoping that a student from Harper Adams University will carry out some research work for us next year on the heathland restoration on the Hangars Field.
Students removing birch seedlings Bell heather plug
As part of the restoration works we have been trying to establish bell heather as well as common heather on the former arable areas. A few years ago Forestart, a seed company based in Hadnall near Shrewsbury, grew 20,000 bell heather plug plants from seed harvested on site, and these were planted out by the volunteers. Those that escaped the attentions of the rabbits have done well, and we have now asked Forestart to provide us with another 20,000 plug plants, which should be ready for planting in 2015.
Finally Butterfly Conservation held its AGM & Members Day on 16th November in Swindon - the venue changes each year, and next yesr it will be held in Suffolk. Around 300 people. including Lucy and myself, were treated to a range of fascinating talks on butterflies and moths as well as the opportunity to meet a whole range of interesting and dedicated people and buy some early Christmas presents at a variety of stalls.
Butterfly Conservation Chair David Dennis welcomes everyone
Stephen Lewis, Prees Heath Warden
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.
|18th Augst 2013||19th August 2013|
|20th August 2013||21st August 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)