Counting snake’s head fritillaries

Every March, we carry out an annual snake’s head fritillary count at Wallingford Castle Meadows. Wild populations of these beautiful flowers are found in only a handful of meadows around the UK, and whilst it’s likely this population by the pond is a Victorian introduction, it’s still important that we monitor them.

Also known as the chequered lily and dead man’s bell, snake’s head fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris) are a brilliant source of food for bumblebees, which are their main pollinator. As a relatively early bloomer, it’s often queen bees who have not long come out of hibernation that you will see foraging for nectar.

We’ve been counting fritillaries at Castle Meadows for 12 years now, and have seen an increase from just 12 in 2008 to a whopping 155 by 2020! The annual count allows us to see how well the plant is doing and whether we need to change any of our management techniques.

With such an abundance of flowers, it seems like we’re doing all the right things, so our rangers will continue with annually cutting and raking about a third of the vegetation around the pond (later in the year), and not allowing the cows that graze the rest of the site to access the area. If the numbers started declining we would adjust our plans, for example increasing the amount of vegetation we clear or carrying out work at a different time of year.

Mid-March is peak flowering time for these fantastic fritillaries and they aren’t around for long, so do look out for them on your next spring visit.