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 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.