A RARE plant which grows on floodplains and has become a tourist attraction in Cricklade has bloomed in droves this year, despite almost disappearing in 2013.
Open University environmental researchers and volunteers carried out a count of the snakeshead fritillary this week at the North Meadow National Nature Reserve. Early results indicate that the plant, which declined dramatically from nearly 2,000 plants to just five at specific sites last year, has had a revival.
The snakeshead fritillary is only found in the wild on floodplain meadows and 80 per cent of the UK’s population of the purple and white flowers can be found at the North Meadow site. “It looks at the moment as if there are much greater numbers this year,” said Emma Rothero of the The Open University, who is working with the Floodplain Meadows Partnership, a project hosted by the OU, to assess this year’s count. “Last year the number dropped from almost 2,000 to just five across the areas in which we count. “We need to do more research to verify our findings, but it looks as if the fritillaries laid dormant, and proved resilient to flooding. “They may therefore be able to cope with the increased periods of flooding we may see as a result of climate change. We hope to understand more about the impact of recent flooding after the count.
“The counts are undertaken by volunteers and researchers. Without the volunteers, the team would not be able to count the numbers that we do.
“We always need more, so if anyone would like to get involved in our annual fritillary counts, or monthly bumblebee surveys, please get in touch with the project.”
North Meadow is owned and managed by Natural England. Anita Barratt, Reserves Manager, said: “Last year’s floods prevented the normal management regime taking place, and from previous experience we know that not getting the hay off can be detrimental to many herbs and grasses – we are still very concerned about the loss of biodiversity, which may take years to recover. “Last year the population of the snakeshead fritillary looked devastated, so it was a relief to see them coming back up again this year. Our counts and those of the Floodplain Meadows Partnership are showing us that these particular plants are resilient, and that is great news.”
The partnership is working to ensure that floodplain managers and policy makers are aware of new research findings and take measures as a result to protect this rare species. “To date, the floodplain meadows research team has visited more than 100 sites across England and Wales to gather data and provide advice.
The Floodplain Meadows Partner-ship members are The Open University; the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; the Environment Agency; Natural England; the Field Studies Council; the Wildlife Trusts and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.