The area covered by the West Midlands Branch encompasses Birmingham and the Black Country, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire covering an area over 10,500 square kilometres (approximately half the size of Wales) with a population of over 4.5 million people. This is a unique area including a wide range of diverse habitats from the mountains in the west to the plains in the east and, at its centre, the second largest metropolitan area in the UK.
Ours was the first regional Branch to establish itself, when in 1979 a committee was formed and a newsletter produced. This has morphed into the Comma which now has 97 editions to its name. Remarkably two of the founding members, Mike Williams and Ron Hatton are still involved.
What we do
A key characteristic of the Branch is the strong commitment to practical conservation, which has resulted in the purchase of a number or reserves throughout the region. Our work is geared to addressing the decline in butterfly and moth numbers due to loss of suitable habitat and shading out of important food plants by scrub. Some of our work involves coppicing, a rotational practice which provides a succession of open, sheltered areas for insects. We hold work parties in the autumn and winter, the period when clearance is least disruptive to the wildlife we are trying to conserve. We open up areas in woodland, bash bracken on hillsides and clear scrub to achieve open, sunny forest rides and a mosaic of vegetation.
We work across the West Midlands region concentrating both on our own reserves and other sites important for butterflies and moths. As well as practical conservation work, our members and volunteers undertake recording and survey work and help raise awareness amongst the wider public.
Reserves and Key Sites
In the 1980s Monkwood and Trench Wood were both jointly purchased with the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust, followed in 1997 by Grafton Wood. More recently the branch raised the money to jointly purchase Laight Rough as an extension to the Grafton Wood reserve. The Branch strongly recognises the importance of landscape scale conservation and has successfully developed projects in many parts of the region, for example the Forest of Feckenham. It has also always believed in working closely with other conservation bodies notably the Wildlife Trusts and the Forestry Commission. In recent years, landscape-scale Lepidoptera projects have been developed with the Forestry Commission and Natural England at the Wyre Forest involving fritillaries and in the Herefordshire and South Shropshire woods aimed at benefiting the Wood White. These have been led by Butterfly Conservation’s regional staff working closely with the branch.
Ewyas Harold Meadows in Herefordshire was added in 2009. In addition, after years of hard work and determined effort by the branch, Prees Heath in Shropshire was purchased in 2006.
Save Press Heath campaign
For centuries Prees Heath was an open heathland common. It was used for warfare training during WWI and as a bomber airfield during WWII. The old aircraft control tower is still present and provides a reminder of part of the areas past history. The heathland was gradually destroyed during the decades following WWII. Fortunately a small part was given protection as a Site of Special Interest in 1991. Thanks to the great efforts by Butterfly Conservation, Cheshire and Shropshire Wildlife Trusts and members of the public during the Prees Heath Appeal sufficient money was raised for Butterfly Conservation to purchase 148 acres of the heathland. Work towards restoring the heathland to its former glory has already commenced with funding received from Grantscape and Natural England.
Prees Heath is the last place in the West Midlands where the threatened Silver-studded Blue butterfly is found. The species has declined in Britain by 50 per cent since 1980. To survive the Silver-studded Blue butterfly requires the presence of ants together with open ground containing short heathland vegetation. The females are known to utilise bell and ling heather and bird's-foot trefoil, near to ants' nests, when laying their eggs. The chrysalis is formed underground within chambers of the ants nest. The caterpillar is tended by the ants as it feeds on the leaves and shoots of its food plants. The benefit to the ant is a tasty honey-like dew excreted by the caterpillar which the ants find irresistible.
To see the Silver-studded Blue butterfly visit Prees Heath between mid June and late July. The area also provides good bird watching opportunities throughout the year.
The Branch quickly realised the need to obtain records on a proper scientific basis and joined the butterfly transect walk scheme in 1980. This is a national scheme which involves volunteers undertaking a weekly count of butterflies through the summer following a fixed route. Mike Williams undertook the first transect at Wyre Forest and, by 2003, the branch had 30 transects being regularly monitored by volunteers. Currently, there are 59 transects in the region and new sites are added every year. 113 transects have been walked in the region with the annual average since 2003 being 44. These transect walks, covering 26 weeks of the year, involve an enormous commitment and effort by volunteers with over 2,000 man-years of recording in a typical year.
Opportunities for involvement
Butterfly Conservation is the national charity dedicated to saving butterflies and moths and there are lots of ways to help. Whether you give your time, donate to an appeal or even run an event to raise funds – everything helps towards the conservation effort. A central aspect of our work is the gathering of accurate recording and monitoring information on the state of butterflies and moths. Full details of this and all other Butterfly Conservation activities can be found on the website.
You can also become involved at a local level and join the West Midlands Branch of Butterfly Conservation. The branch organises walks, events and work parties all of which are publicised on the branch website, the branch Facebook site and in the regular magazine The Comma. One of the best ways of learning about butterflies is to attend field trips and other events organised by the branch.
The branch manages a number of reserves and works with other organisations on practical site management for butterflies and moths. Work parties clear woodland rides to allow in sunshine to encourage wild flowers, which act as a nectar and food source for insects. They also keep down vegetation on sites favoured by species such as Grayling and Dingy Skipper, which require warm, bare ground and rocky outcrops. This is labour intensive and depends mainly on volunteer participation. If you are considering the benefits of joining a work party most are on Sundays with a few key sites running on a weekday as well. It is an opportunity for outdoor activity, meeting like-minded people and becoming acquainted with some of the best sites in the region for butterflies. Even if you are not in a position to become actively involved, by becoming a member of Butterfly Conservation you would make an important contribution to the future of Britain’s wild butterflies and moths.
Benefits of Branch Membership
• guided walks and indoor meetings
• The Comma magazine published three times a year with lots of informative articles and details of guided walks, excursions and work parties
• website - www.westmidlands-butterflies.org.uk
• Moth nights
• ID training and advice
To join Butterfly Conservation go to: www.butterfly-conservation.org
What opportunities can we offer you locally to be involved? Our work depends on voluntary activity – there are many things you can become involved in:
• joining a work party
• transect walks – monitoring a known location
• submitting casual records
• promoting Butterfly Conservation through events, stalls and talks
• supporting the work of the Committee
• helping update our website
• helping start a local group
To find out more about what is happening in West Midlands Butterfly Conservation please consider joining our Facebook sites. The branch administers two separate sites: BC West Midlands Butterflies and Moths which is where to post your sightings and photos of species taken in the region and Butterfly Conservation West Midlands which is where we post information on branch activities. Both sites are very well used by members and supporters, updated on a regular basis and are a great way of keeping in touch.
Lastly a plug for “Butterflies of the West Midlands”, published in May 2016. If you have not already purchased a copy please consider doing so. The Branch has pledged to spend all proceeds on the practical conservation of butterflies and moths in the Region.