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FRITILLARIA

MELEAGRIS L. AT M I C K F I E L D , SUFFOLK P . J. O . TRIST

In 1923 a handful of far sighted people made financial contributions and persuaded the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves to buy the Mickfield fritillary meadow. Hind (1889) had recorded some 20 sites in Suffolk; by 1978, only 5 sites remained, 3 of which are managed by the Suffolk Trust for Nature Conservation. This4V2 acre meadow has remained untouched by modern farming techniques but its population of fritillaries had altered and suffered from 'preservation'. M y first introduction to the meadow was about 1950 when L o r d Cranbrook told me that a neighbour had complained of flooding of his arable land, as the north ditch of the meadow was fĂźll. In my capacity in agriculture at the time, I arranged for the ditch to be dug and for reasons which have escaped me the account was 'lost'. A t this time, the hedges all around the meadow were high and growing out into the field. Some 70 odd oaks had been planted on the headlands and a number of w i l d rose and thorn bushes eolonized into the field. There was some occasional grazing by cattle and I believe at least one cut of rough hay was taken in July, a token of conservation. Following the foundation of the Suffolk Trust for Nature Conservation in 1961, the S.P.N.R. leased the meadow to the Trust. However in the early years the Trust had to direct its attention to the acquisition of sites and the co-ordination of assistance and interest in conservation. In 1972, the Trust took note of the much reduced population of the fritillaries and being in a better position to tackle field work, decided that meaningful conservation was overdue. A t the time, the north hedge comprised a blackthorn thicket of 40 yards in depth with many 40 year old elms over 30 feet high: the west hedge area was 35 yards deep in scrub with many oak, elm and thorns. U n d e r a dead thicket of thorn and on the adjoining ditch bank, was a thriving rabbit warren; the tall hedge cover provided nesting for pigeons, whilst the isolated position of the meadow surrounded by arable land made it an ideal quiet area for pheasants. Through the generosity of R. Miles of Ashfield, an industrial digger made a Start in 1972 on the clearance of trees and scrub at the north end. Subsequent clearing-up was assisted by a team of cadets from Stowmarket, pupils from the


F R I T I L L A R 1 A M E L E A G R I S L. AT M I C K F I E L D ,

SUFFOLK

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E y e M o d e r n School and some members o f the T r u s t , including the C h a i r m a n M e r v y n B e l l , w h o c o n t i n u e d to organise w o r k parties o n the hedges a n d felling trees up to the end o f 1974. E a r l y i n 1975 we had the generous assistance o f H u g h T u r n e r o f M i c k f i e l d H a l l . W i t h tractor and bulldozer the bush and tree stumps were pushed to heaps f o r b u r n i n g and t e m p o r a r y ditches were infilled. T h e area was finely cultivated, levelled and seeded, thus r e c l a i m i n g about IV2 acres. F u r t h e r w o r k , p a r t i c u l a r l y o n the west, c o n t i n u e d up to 1977. O v e r the p e r i o d 1972-77, the rabbits w h i c h had done considerable damage by grazing the early g r o w t h o f the f r i t i l l a r i e s , were gradually brought under control. T h e r e m o v a l o f the high hedges had reduced cover for pigeons and the loss o f the f o r m e r 'peace o f d e r e l i c t i o n ' reduced the n u m b e r o f v i s i t i n g pheasants. D Ăź r i n g the past 15 years, the m e a d o w has been m o w n in late J u l y a n d again i n the back end o f the year and this has a l l o w e d the f r i t i l l a r i e s t o seed d o w n . H o w e v e r , the plants have s u f f e r e d f r o m early grazing by rabbits and severe loss by damage t o the flowers by pheasants or pigeons. A s a c o n t r o l to measure this damage, a w i r e - n e t t i n g cage o f 12 foot square was first set u p i n 1971 and has been m o v e d annually. O n 18th A p r i l 1974, 45 flowers r e m a i n e d u n h a r m e d in the cage, whilst 93 were r e c o r d e d in the r e m a i n d e r o f a defined plot area o f 0.12 ac. B y 29th A p r i l , the n u m b e r o f u n h a r m e d flowers outside o f the cage was 6 and o n the day o f this count, over 100 pigeons flew out o f the hedge as I approached to record. I n 1968, an estimate o f 1000-plus plants were recorded over the field: i n 1970, there were o n l y 300-plus and 218 in 1971. F r o m 1972, the f o l l o w i n g i n f o r m a t i o n was recorded in the p l o t area.

1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977

Undamaged flowering fritillaries 442 398 138 10

62 580

Damaged

flowering fritillaries 97 284 281 ? 144 167

B o t h the s u m m e r s 1975 and 1976 were very d r y and this was c e r t a i n l y adverse to the r e q u i r e d habitat o f the f r i t i l l a r y . H o w e v e r this fact and the d e p r e d a t i o n o f v e r m i n affect is not


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Suffolk

Natural History,

Vol. 17, Part 4

sufficiently understood to give an emphatic opinion and we have not yet sufficient records to prove the value of the active conservation. However it looks as though we might be operating on the right lines to save the fritillaries. Reference Hind, W. M. (1889). Flora of Suffolk, 345. Lunson. P. J. O. Trist, O.B.E., B.A., M.R.A.C., F.L.S. Glovers, 28 High Street, Balsham, Cambs.

Fritillaria meleagris at Micklefield, Suffolk  
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