Record number of rare fritillaries counted on Broad Meadow

Wednesday, 21st April 2021

A RECORD number of a rare flower has been counted at one of Tamworth’s picturesque nature reserves this spring after years of careful management by volunteers, conservationists – and cows!

Volunteers have counted 746 established rare snake’s head fritillary plants at Broad Meadow Nature Reserve (near the River Tame off Lichfield Road). This is an increase from last year’s 502 and more than the previously-held record of 601 counted in 1990.

Broad Meadow sits on a small island between the two channels of the River Tame and is recognised as a Site of Biological Importance as it is a prime example of lowland meadow – a floodplain grassland habitat which is becoming increasingly rare in Staffordshire and across the UK. It is also one of only two sites in the county where the snake’s head fritillary can be found growing wild.

The 61-acre reserve is run and managed under the Wild About Tamworth project – a partnership between Tamworth Borough Council and Staffordshire Wildlife Trust. The project aims to make the site more accessible to people by opening it up and more valuable to wildlife by allowing the fritillaries to spread.

Snakes Head Fritillary - Tom_Marshall

Snakes Head Fritillary at Broadmeadow. (Credit: Tom Marshall)

The stunning fritillaries are currently in bloom and in order to encourage the fritillary population, it is important that the ground conditions are maintained and that competing species are removed.

The most effective way to do this is through the use of cattle grazing and the Broad Meadow herd can be seen grazing on the site during the summer. The Hereford and Angus breeds of cattle are chosen to live on the meadow because of their docile natures.

Claire Williams, Wild About Tamworth officer, said:

“Due to the careful management on Broad Meadow to maintain the lowland meadow, wild growing snake head fritillaries have come out in record numbers.

“It takes three years for seeds to turn into a bulb and up to eight years until it produces a flower, so long term management is therefore paramount. Grazing of the site with cattle from late spring until mid-winter helps keep larger shrubs at bay to enable lower vegetation to thrive.

“A big thanks must also go to the Broad Meadow volunteer group for watching, counting, and recording these rare plants for us.”

Volunteers carried out this year’s fritillary count on April 7 in a socially distanced group of six.

For the volunteers, this year’s record number also feels like a fitting tribute to the late conservationist Maurice Arnold who died this year aged 95.

A founder member of Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, it is thanks to Maurice that local records like the snakes head fritillary count are available dating back to 1958. Together with his late brother George, Maurice was instrumental in protecting wildlife and wild places in Tamworth. He was keenly involved in the Wild About Tamworth project.

The snake’s head fritillary is an unmistakeable plant with chequered purple, pink or even white, bell-like flowers nodding on thin stems. It has narrow grey-green leaves that appear on the base of the plant and occasionally up the stem. They are now only found in a handful of floodplain meadows in southern and central England.

Anyone who would like more information, or to get involved as a volunteer, should contact Wild About Tamworth officer Claire Williams on 07494 852399, email tamworth@staffs-wildlife.org.uk or visit www.tamworth.gov.uk/wild-about-tamworth.