Monday, 20 April 2015

Fritillaries at Cricklade North Meadow


I've posted several times before (for instance here) about Cricklade North Meadow in Wiltshire, near where we live. We visit the site regularly and it is always a pleasure. We visited again last Saturday afternoon in warm spring sunshine.

The site, over 100 acres (24.6 hectares) of traditionally maintained hay meadow, is a National Nature Reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. In all, Cricklade North Meadow is home to more than 250 different species which flower throughout the spring and summer. Many of these are very rare.

The meadow is perhaps best known for its wonderful (and certainly rare) display of snakes head fritillaries that bloom in most years from mid to late April. The fritillary, along with many other uncommon species, flourishes in the protected and incomparably special habitat with its seasonal flooding of the upper Thames. Indeed, the Meadow has 80% of the Fritillary meleagris in the UK.

This year, following two years of dramatic and almost overwhelming flooding, the fritillaries have been particularly spectacular. It is estimated that, in a good year, around 500.000 blooms carpet the meadow with a gentle purple glaze. This I can well believe. On this lovely spring afternoon, the Meadow was full of blooms and was looking truly beautiful.

There were also many more common species in full flower. These included the bright yellow king cup or marsh marigold. As its common names suggests, it is a marsh-loving member of the same family of plants as the buttercup (ranunculaceae). For me, it is a reminder of happy childhood spring holidays with my grandmother in Hampshire.

Then there was the lady's smock or cuckoo flower, so called because its flowering coincides with the arrival of the first cuckoo of spring, and there were many thousands of bright yellow dandelions which intermingled with the fritillaries.

As we walked, we heard sky larks. willow warblers and chiff-chaffs and saw a peacock butterfly sunning itself on vegetation - hints of the fauna also flourishing in the Meadow.
















Last Saturday afternoon, there were lots of other visitors enjoying these delights. Most of us on this occasion, I suspect, were drawn by the fritillaries - but also, perhaps, by the special Fritillary Tearoom that opens at weekends in April and which promises excellent home made cakes and a good cup of tea after a walk in the meadow.

Maintenance of these disappearing hay meadows is becoming critical. It is estimated that we have lost around 97% of our traditionally maintained meadows to drainage, fertilisers and the plough. With this loss has come the endangering of the many wild flowers that used to flourish in them. Long may the Meadow continue. We feel privileged to live so close and to be able to visit so regularly.

Further information about Cricklade North Meadow can be found here on the official website.


8 comments:

  1. How amazing these meadows are. Thank you for sharing the pictures.

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    1. They are beautiful - and I'm sure so different from anything you have in India, Maya. Though as I write that, I guess you have meadows in the foothills of the Himalayas?

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  2. Lovely to be reminded. I have not been there for many years. I was amazed to read that the meadow has 80% of all England's meleagris. We saw a very few, but still lovely, at West Green garden last week. They are delightful, and I love visiting my one in our own garden.

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    1. My daughter gave us a few meleagris bulbs a few years ago and we tried to grow them but with no success. I suspect we chose the wrong site ... and I couldn't restrain my husband's wish to mow too often and too early!

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  3. Gorgeous! I've not been aware of such meadows, certainly not here in British Columbia.

    I'm surprised that the buttercup is valued. It's the bane of our garden and lawn, so invasive and impossible to get rid off. It is poisonous to chickens, horses.. and can o ly be rid off by very nasty chemicals which I will not use.

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    1. You are so right about buttercups in general and this species is also poisonous but this king cup has special appeal as it is about three times the size of those in lawns and fields and has large and impressive flowers. It only grows in marshy areas, along streams and drainage ditches. Also, Cricklade North Meadow has been in use undisturbed for hundreds of years. The hay is cut in late summer and then the meadow is grazed during the winter when the king cups are dormant. Hence, no danger to the horses which graze from mid-August to min-February..

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  4. What a beautiful sight I love fritillaries but they don't grow round here, I must try to get up one year to see them. Buttercups may be a bane of the gardener but near where my Mum used to live there were fields of buttercups that were just beautiful.

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    1. We have several beautiful buttercup meadows round here too. I remember viewing one from out of the dentist's waiting room window last spring. It cheered me up no end!!

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