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Rare and iconic snake's-head fritillary blooming in Oxfordshire

05/07/2007 00:00:00 April 2007. A little known site in the heart of Oxford is home to a massive population of a rare but iconic wild flower which used to be abundant in Britain – the snake's-head fritillary. This petite, purple and white flower carpets the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust’s nature reserve at Iffley Meadows during April and the beginning of May.
Snakeshead fritillaries in Iffley Meadows. © Helen Taylor/BBOWT
To check the status of the flowers, every year Trust staff and volunteers count the plants on site. Looking like a scene from a crime scene drama, they slowly inch along in line, counting every flower they see. The results are now in for this year’s survey and we can now confirm the good news that there are over 42,000 plants on site this year!

When the Trust took over management of Iffley Meadows 25 years ago in 1983, numbers of this flower were a mere 500 plants as the site was being grazed all year round by cows, not giving the flowers a chance to grow. But, due to BBOWT's careful management of the site and controlled grazing, numbers of the flower have shot up to over 65,000 plants at their peak – a huge success story.
Snakeshead fritillary in Iffley Meadows. © Helen Taylor/BBOWT
Debbie Lewis, BBOWT’s Biodiversity Survey Officer says: ‘It’s great news that the snake’s-heads are doing so well at Iffley Meadows and it truly is a spectacular sight when they all burst into flower! Iffley represents a rare type of floodplain meadow which used to be widespread, but is now nationally declining, so BBOWT’s management over the last 25 years has been, and still is, crucial to its success.’

Snake's-head fritillaries are commonly found in wet grassland areas, which is why Oxfordshire plays host to several thriving populations along the Thames floodplain. Iffley Meadows is one of the best spots to see this attractive flower, but so few people realise why these meadows are so special, using the site for a stroll without realising what's under their feet. The Trust are hoping to raise awareness about how to view these delicate flowers responsibly.

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