Wild Future For Former War Tower

Prees Heath war tower

A World War Two RAF control tower will become a home for wildlife as part of a project to preserve the building.

The former control tower which sits at the heart of Butterfly Conservation’s Prees Heath nature reserve near Whitchurch, Shropshire, will be painted in camouflage colours as the building reverts closer to its original 1940s appearance.

As part of the renovations the inside of the control tower will be made accessible for birds, bats and insects looking for roosting and nesting sites.

Prees Heath reserve is the only site in the county for the rare Silver-studded Blue butterfly, but during the war the site was a key RAF airbase.

Originally known as RAF Whitchurch Heath but later changed to RAF Tilstock, the airfield was built by Alfred McAlpine and opened in August 1942. It was a training airfield for pilots and aircrew to learn how to fly bombers rather than an operational facility. The airfield closed after the war and eventually, after a long-running campaign involving the Prees Heath Commoners and many local residents, the western half of the common was purchased by Butterfly Conservation in 2006.

Work on the tower is due to start later this month and is scheduled to be completed by the end of March.

Butterfly Conservation’s Prees Heath Warden, Stephen Lewis said: “This is an exciting development which will see an important historical artefact and a landmark in the local landscape conserved

“The building is an integral part of the restoration of the western half of Prees Heath Common, much of which was previously used to grow crops in the postwar period, being carried out by Butterfly Conservation, and already a great deal has been achieved to transform the site into a sanctuary for wildlife and an important public amenity”.

Renovations will see the roof repaired and coated with asphalt as it was originally. All the windows will be bricked up except one which will have a steel shutter, and a secure door will be installed. The external render will be repaired and replaced where necessary and the building will be painted in camouflage colours as it was during the war.

A series of information panels explaining the wartime, social, geological and natural history of Prees Heath Common will be installed on the outside of the building for the benefit of visitors. The Common was also a large training camp in World War One, and the centenary of the outbreak of the war falls this year. World War Two also saw the Common used as an Internment Camp and a Prisoner of War Camp.

As well as becoming a home for wildlife the building will be made accessible for members of the public on guided walks, school and college educational visits and community group outings.

The work is being funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the Meres & Mosses Landscape Partnership Scheme, a partnership of 10 statutory and charitable organisations working at conservation, raising awareness, engaging communities, improving access and providing opportunities for people to learn skills associated with the landscape, and by Natural England. Funding for the information panels was provided by Northern Marches LEADER.

Visitors to the Reserve, especially dog owners, are asked to be aware that vehicles carrying out the works will be accessing the site over the next few weeks.