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Rare wildlife treat at Hereford beauty spot… now

NOW’S the time to see a rare wildflower in one of the few places where it thrives… Hereford.

This is proving to be a fantastic year for the snake’s head fritillary, which flowers every April on Lugg Meadows.

The beauty spot on the eastern outskirts of Hereford is a popular places to visit and walk through the tall meadow grasses in summer, or along the banks of the river Lugg.

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The river and adjacent meadows are also teeming with wildlife, with otters and kingfishers regularly spotted.

The call of curlews can be heard in spring, while waterfowl make the flooded grasslands their home over winter.

But perhaps the most well-known and loved of the meadows’ flora and fauna are the snake’s head fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris).

White snake’s head fritillaries in Lugg Meadows, Hereford, by Katherine Beasley/Herefordshire Wildlife Trust

TV gardener Monty Don, who lives near Leominster, is known to be a fan of the flower, and grows them in his Longmeadow garden.

The delicate and rare species flower in April and May when a profusion of their nodding heads can be seen across Upper Lugg Meadow.

Frances Weeks, communications and marketing manager for Herefordshire Wildlife Trust, which manages the nature reserve, said: “Usually a beautiful checkered purple flower, many of the fritillaries on Lugg Meadow are pure white – a rare sight.

“The fritillary is found on traditionally managed flood-plain meadows and though nationally rare, can be abundant locally, as on Lugg Meadows.”

Only a few sites in the UK are considered to hold wild populations, although many other sites have had plants introduced, she said.

The number of fritillaries flowering each year is dependent on many factors including the weather and when the flood waters, which often cover the meadows for much of the winter, subside.

Hereford Times: Snake's head fritillaries in Lugg Meadows, Hereford, by Paul Lloyd/Herefordshire Wildlife TrustSnake’s head fritillaries in Lugg Meadows, Hereford, by Paul Lloyd/Herefordshire Wildlife Trust

“This year looks to be a fantastic year, with already a profusion of flowers in bloom across Upper Lugg Meadow,” Ms Weeks said.

The flower’s curious name comes from two sources. The unopened flower buds are said to resemble the head of a snake, hence snake’s head, while fritillary is derived from the Latin: fritillus, a dice used in a game played on a checkered board – a reference to the checkerboard markings seen on the purple varieties.

Herefordshire Wildlife Trust owns part of the Lugg Meadows nature reserve and warmly welcomes visitors to see the flowers. However, the trust asks visitors to take care when visiting.

Hereford Times: TV gardener Monty Don, who lives in Herefordshire, is an admirer of snake's head fritillaries.  Picture: BBCTV gardener Monty Don, who lives in Herefordshire, is an admirer of snake’s head fritillaries. Picture: BBC

Nature reserves team manager Esther Clarke said: “Lugg Meadows is a popular place for people to walk their dogs but at this time of year we ask that dogs are kept on leads both to avoid these delicate flowers being trampled and also as curlew, another endangered species, historically bred here and we hope to encourage pairs to continue to nest here.

“The fritillaries are such a joy to see and the damp grassland of Lugg Meadows offers the perfect conditions for them to thrive.

“We manage the meadows as they have been managed for centuries by cutting them for hay in the summer, then they are grazed over winter.

“Lugg Meadow is a lammas meadow, which means commoners have rights to graze the land from Lammas Day on August 2 to Candlemas on February 2.”

The nature reserve is most easily accessed as signposted from the A438 in Tupsley on the edge of Hereford and is open from dawn to dusk. The fritillaries are two thirds of the way up the meadow, beyond Baynton Wood.