Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Iffley Meadow fritillaries

After last weeks expedition to Ford water meadows, where we discovered over-grazed, drained fields and just two snakes-head fritillaries, we couldn't resist a trip to Iffley Meadows in Oxford today to see what a water meadow could look like if properly cared for. I'd read the reports that this was a record year, with 89,830 fritillaries counted last week, but I still wasn't quite sure what to expect.

Turns out we weren't disappointed!

To start with the setting is beautiful. You walk down the tow path of the river Thames, then enter the nature reserve, where fields full of fritillaries stretch out in front of you. They stand just above the grasses and other wild flowers, so you can easily spot their purple chequered heads, bent over on long delicate stems.

Once upon a time this is would have been a common site in our countryside!

Most are purple, but there were some white fritillaries in the mix, as well as some light pink ones that look like a cross between the purple and white ones.

Purple, pink and white fritillaries

Snakes-head fritillaries are the county flower of Oxfordshire and Iffley Meadows are one of the best places to see them in the country. They are, sadly, a very rare site these days.

They all hang their heads down, so I couldn't resist taking a
peek from underneath
BBOWT took over the management of the site in 1983 and the numbers have increased from 500 then, to 40-60,000 in recent years. Thanks to fine summer weather and careful management, the numbers have been increasing over the last three years to the record numbers recorded last week. To care for the fritillaries the meadow is cut for hay in July to remove excess nutrients. Then cattle graze through autumn and early winter to keep the sedges and rushes at bay. 

The fields were full of other wildflowers including lady's smock (cuckoo flower) and marsh marigold (or hobble gobble, as my Mum calls it). Later in the year there'll be lots of other flowers, including vetch, meadowsweet and meadow-rue.

Lady's smock

Marsh marigold or hobble gobble
The river runs down the edge of the nature reserve and reed filled ditches and streams criss-cross the site. These are home to reed buntings, sedge warblers and cetti's warblers.

Reed beds

The River Thames
Thank you BBOWT and well done for looking after the water meadows and the fritillaries for us!


  1. That's brilliant! Such a pretty flower. I love the 'scales' on the petals, so different to any other flower. Have you got any other plant targets in mind during the next few months?

  2. Thanks! Orchids, orchids and a few more orchids!!