Prees Heath restoration project
Contact detailsOrganisation: Butterfly Conservation
Website: Prees Heath reserve page on Butterfly Conservation website
The western half of Prees Heath Common was purchased by Butterfly Conservation in 2006 with a view to restoring it to heathland. This heathland is the only site in the Midlands where the silver studded blue butterfly, a species in decline nationally, is still found.
Initially the site was surveyed to establish the profile depth of the soil pH and the concentration of major soil nutrients; these key characteristics of the underlying subsoils were reviewed by Butterfly Conservation and their consultant ecologists to set the starting point for the restoration project. The survey results indicated that the optimum approach would be inverting the soil by deep ploughing, artificially raising the levels of acid in the soil and seeding using heather brash.
Work started in 2007 with contractors undertaking deep ploughing using equipment hired from Landlife at the National Wildflower Centre. The project area was sprayed in July and October to kill off weeds growing from roots remaining in the soil.
Following the successful example of the RSPB Minsmere Reserve in Suffolk (Owen et al ., 1999; Kemp, 2004), elemental sulphur was applied leading to an increase in the acidity of the upper sand horizon in the short term and and to an acceleration of the weathering and leaching processes which will return the sandy soil to its natural acidity levels.
20,000 plug plants of Bell Heather, Erica cinerea, were raised by a local nursery from heather seed harvested from Prees Heath and then planted out in 2009. 20 plots were set out to establish the extent of damage from rabbits browsing the young plants.
Surveying was carried out to establish the acidity of the soil over the next 3 years. Surveying of plant sizes and plant rate of growth was also undertaken during this period.