28 Jul 2013

Mottey Meadows and Prees Heath - WFV Summer Excursion 28 June 2013 - Margaret Mitchell

We arrived early and parked in the school car park.  Shortly afterwards the Trust Land Rover sped by driven by Matt.  We set off in hot pursuit only to meet him coming back the other way.  After at little to-ing and fro-ing we all arrived at the entrance to Mottey Meadows

The weather was warm but overcast with occasional gentle showers, which never the less were quite drenching.  Our guide was the site warden, Melanie Brown of English Nature, who was both informative and enthusiastic and we spent the morning walking in the extensive wild flower rich floodplain.

The first meadow was dotted extensively with the red flower heads of great burnet, interspersed with devil’s-bit scabious and buttercups.  Later in the summer/early autumn the hay will be cut and grazed by cattle, ensuring that the diversity of plants remains high.

The site has several ancient black poplar trees whose size and girth are very impressive.

A second meadow revealed a sea of meadow thistle, their lilac flowers in full bloom. Meadow Brown butterflies and a Yellow Shell moth were spotted enjoying the flowers and a curlew’s cry alerted us all to glance skywards as it flew overhead towards the line of trees and hedgerow on the horizon.

Crossing the meadow amongst ox-eye daisies, we saw small stands of saw-wort still in bud, whilst creamy flower heads of pepper saxifrage were in full bloom.  Large tufts of soft rush formed yet a different habitat in another compartment.

In all 24 fields comprise this National Nature Reserve that contains more than 200 species of flowers, grasses and sedges.  Snake’s head fritillary is present in profusion in May and Mottey Meadows is the most northerly site where it grows in its truly wild form.

We all took photographs, both close-ups and panoramic vistas, trying to capture the essence of this special place.  Flowers as far as the eye could see.

We then all journeyed to Prees Heath where, after lunch, we met the reserve officer, Stephen Lewis of Butterfly Conservation, who guided us round the site.  Here we saw several Silver-studded Blue butterflies landing on the heather.  Their emergence had been delayed this year by the cold spring.  Normally there would have been literally hundreds on the wing at this time.

The former airfield remains common land and there is open access.  It is now being managed by Butterfly Conservation to provide a suitable habitat for this rare butterfly.

After the war part of the site was farmed and consequently the nature of the soil was enriched.  By deep ploughing the sandy subsoil has been brought to the surface and the reserve returned to heath once more.  Heather brash from Cannock Chase has been scattered across the site and the acid conditions have also encouraged wild flowers to grow.  For example, birds’ foot trefoil, weld, mayweed, heath speedwell and the lemon petals of mouse-eared hawkweed, tinged with pink rays behind the inflorescence.

The Silver-studded Blues are dependent on the black ants for their development.  The ants take the tiny caterpillars into their nests where they feed on a sugary liquid exuding from the caterpillars.  The ants protect the caterpillars throughout the pupae stage and when the butterfly emerges to dry its wings they continue to feed from the adult butterflies until they are ready to fly.  These exquisite, small butterflies live only a few days and do not travel far, often roosting in large numbers on shrubs.

The area is also ideal for other species, and during the afternoon we spotted Small Heath and Small Blue butterflies.  A tiger beetle scurried across the sandy soil and a beautiful velvet oil beetle joined us to read the information board.

The afternoon ended with another drenching but our spirits were not dampened.  We had seen the Silver-studded blue and so much more, a great day out for the Wrekin Forest Volunteers Summer Excursion.

And finally a big thank you to our guides, Melanie Brown and Stephen Lewis, and to Matt Marston for organising the day.

Margaret Mitchell

13 Jul 2013

Nature Notes – July 2013 by Pete Lambert

The dark steel-blue back flexed easily holding the Rainbow trout head first into the flow. The water-fall just downstream generated enough force to make it difficult for even a strong adult to stand in the waters for long without giving away the enormous effort required. Each successive weir had created a pool in which groups of the introduced game fish moved powerfully about. We had encountered the first of the weirs about a mile up Lathkilldale, all part of a large local estates efforts to generate income. We intended to follow the river upwards to its source, though as it begins it journey underground this was a fools errand. We did however find the cave mouth from which the river, when in spate, pours out and fills its rocky bed. Below this point the river does delightful things as it tilts over gravelly shoals, bends around roots and over  tiny cascades. A Dipper and Grey wagtail exploited the aquatic insect life either along the shore or in the Dippers case swimming along the stream bed tipping over stones  and eating the nymphs and larvae hiding beneath.

We had begun our walk in Youlgreave heading out of the village to find the mouth of the Lath. The valley begins gently enough but gradually the walls close in looming higher and higher, blocky crags of limestone leering out over us whilst we trod quietly upstream.  Ash woods grew out from the jagged tumble of limestone boulders  and cliffs, just coming into leaf, gentle lime green hues added to the strong sunlight penetrating the ancient trees. We enjoyed the clusters of Early Purple orchids, but were far too early for the native blue floral display of Jacobs Ladder.  The colonies in the White Peak area of Derbyshire are truly native and quite scarce. The plant gets its name from the ladder like arrangement of its leaves. Finally our trek took us into the upper dry valley of Lathkilldale, the unique combination of limestone scenery, ash woods and rich grasslands concealed in an awe-inspiring gorge had sated our need for intoxicating landscapes, well at least for this week!

The lads were at their usual spot waiting hangdog-like for the school coach when a real dog seemed to be bounding through the knee high crop, as it drew close this was no dog. The deer realising that the way was barred by school boys dug in its hooves and steered a sharp left to disappear shortly thereafter. Not your usual start to the school day. A cycle trip that week also brought in an unusual total of 12 buzzards in the same segment of sky, why they should gather in this way I don’t know maybe they too were simply enjoying the heat and the thermal lift it brings. 

Getting into the canoes was the only way to explore the far bank of the Monts canal away from the mown grass and dog walked disturbance of the tow path. Otter spraints on the bridge piers were our reward and a half-finished fishy meal laid out on a flattened area of weed was the otters. The otter is the only mammal who is able to peel back the skin of a fish, so it can neatly consume the white flesh. The purpose of our journey that day was to assess the habitat suitability of the canal for Water vole, sadly so much of the canal is heavily engineered that it was generally unsuitable. Though here and there sections held promise but this has to be tempered with the fact we did find evidence of predatory mink. Banded and Beautiful  demoiselles  flew up to us at a few places, we spied a pike and the hairy caterpillar of a Drinker moth. The air was alive with May, Stone and Caddis flies, and various snails floated by or slowly moved across weed or parapet. The marginal plants such as Water dock and the Greater tussock sedge were in top form, grand and stately.  Walking, paddling or cycling, however you do it, just get out there and enjoy the wild places, there may even be some sun!

Happy Wildlife watching,