The rare Snakeshead Fritillary flowering plant
Open University environmental researchers and volunteers have found that the snakeshead fritillary, a rare plant which grows on the UK's floodplains, has bloomed in droves this year despite almost disappearing in 2013.
Early results from a count today (24 April) at the North Meadow National Nature Reserve in Wiltshire indicate that the snakeshead fritillary, which declined dramatically from nearly 2,000 plants to just five when counted at specific sites by the Floodplain Meadow Partnership last year, has had a revival. The snakeshead fritillary is only found in the wild on floodplain meadows and 80% 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 currently 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.”
Emma continued: “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 overall 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 Floodplain Meadows 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 Partnership 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; the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
The Open University is running a free online course on ecosystems which will run for six weeks from 19 May, on the FutureLearn.com platform. It is aimed at those new to the subject and will illustrate how individual ecosystems function and the impact of humans on the natural world. For more details visit www.futurelearn.com/courses/ecosystems-2014.
All Open University Science MOOCs presented on FutureLearn are produced with the kind support of Dangoor Education.
About The Open University
In the UK’s latest Research Assessment Exercise (RAE 2008) The Open University was ranked in the top third of UK higher education institutions. More than 50% of OU research was assessed in the RAE as internationally excellent, with 14% as world leading.
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