North Meadow Cricklade North Meadow

North Meadow National Nature Reserve


North Meadow National Nature reserve is situated in North Wiltshire, at the western end of the Thames Valley. The meadow lies to the north-west of the Town of Cricklade, between the River Churn to the north, and the River Thames to the south. The site is approximately seven miles south-east of Cirencester, and eight miles north-west of Swindon.
North Meadow is about 20 minutes walk north-west of Cricklade town centre.

Why is North Meadow Important?

  1. North meadow has a great variety of wildflowers and is of international importance as one of the finest examples of lowland hay meadow in Europe. It is protected as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

  2. The meadow supports Britain’s Largest population of the snake’s head fritillary Fritillaria meleagris, a beautiful and nationally scarce flower.

  3. Records show that without doubt the management of North Meadow has continued almost unchanged for at least one and a half centuries, as a result of the sites unusual status as a Lammas Land.

  4. The past agricultural management of the meadow for hay and grazing has given rise to a very diverse and interesting floral community.

The Meaning of Lammas Meadows

Meadow is grassland which is mown for hay in summer to provide winter fodder. It is generally found in low-lying damp areas, often on land liable to flooding by moving water, which produces an abundance of grassland plants. Meadow is the best recorded land-use in Doomsday and is frequently found to be rated as three times the value of arable land underlining the importance attached to hay. Hay would have permitted more livestock to live, work and produce during the winter than from winter grazing alone. Meadowland is often used as pasturage once the hay crop has been removed.

Lammas describes a particular type of land tenure. Under this management regime, the owner, traditionally the lord of the manor in which the meadow lies, divides the meadow into parcels of land referred to as ‘lots’ or ‘doles’. He then sells the rights to the hay crop to local farmers and these owners of the freehold are responsible for harvesting the hay in each allotment. However after the hay crop has been gathered, the meadow becomes common pasture and the livestock of certain commoners are entitled to graze the entire meadow irrespective of the hay rights. Traditionally, the commonable rights begin on August 12th, also known as Lammas day, and end around Candlemas at the beginning of February when once again the meadow is laid up for hay. 

As far as is known, this system of land management has survived relatively unchanged for the past 800 years. The existence of common rights has assisted in the protection of Lammas Meadows by prohibiting any ‘improvements’ in grass husbandry such as ploughing up the turf and the use of chemical fertilizers and herbicides

Origin of the word Lammas

Lammas is a medieval English name derived from the Anglo-Saxon hlaef-mass or ‘loaf mass’ festival held on August 1st to mark the opening of the harvest. The first of the ripe cereals were picked, baked into bread, consecrated at church and on the 12th, they were crumbled into the four corners of a barn to make it a safe repository for the grain about to arrive there. This festival appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 912 as ‘the feast of the first fruits’

Management of the Meadow

Pre-Inclosure Management

Before they were united in 1898, Cricklade was formed of two parishes; Cricklade St. Sampson and Cricklade St. Mary. The earliest evidence that land in North Meadow was divided into allotments comes from glebe terriers for the two parishes. The 1588 terrier for Cricklade St Sampson incorporated Lammas tithes of cattle grazed in common in accordance with the ancient custom and the glebe of 1608 for Cricklade St Mary refers to a share in Northmead of about an acre.

A manorial survey made in 1811 lists 24 plots in North Meadow. It also provides information on the acreage of each plot and declares the value of an acre of ‘mead’ in North meadow as 5s indicating its high quality.

The effect of Inclosure Act on the Meadow

The Inclosure Act affecting the district was passed in 1814 and stated quite clearly the ancient Lammas routine, instructing that North Meadow was to remain unenclosed and to retain its commonable rights.

The act did, however introduce one very significant modification to its management; the redistribution of doles so that each owner had the same acreage of mead but in one consolidated unit rather than several small strips.

A map which accompanies the award in 1824 shows 30 plots roughly rectangular in shape.

In order that the plots could be demarcated without interfering with common grazing, small dole stones were put in place at intervals along the boundaries. Some of these stones are still in position today of which a small number are inscribed with initials which allude to names registered in the inclosure Award

The Fritillary

  • The declaration of North Meadow as a NNR in 1971 was due to its importance as a site for the Fritillary.

  • This large water meadow of 110 acres carries the largest single population of this now quite rare species in the British Isles; it represents 80% of the total British population.

  • The sites for the plant were once relatively common but over the years various forms of land improvement such as drainage, grazing and fertilizer application have reduced the numbers to a handful, most of which are in this area of the upper Thames. The most northerly site for the Fritillary is Mottey Meadows near Stafford. The Fritillary favours meadows that are subject to winter flooding.

  • The plant belongs to the Liliaceae family. It arises from a small bulb and has an erect grey-green stem that can vary from 200-500 height bearing alternate linier leaves. The flowers are usually single but doubles and very rarely three-headed forms are found.

Fritillary Bulbs

  • The Fritillary bulbs lie about 5-8 cm below the soil surface and are dormant from late June to August. During late August some contractile roots begin to develop from the sides of the bulb. The new shoots also begin to develop and elongate very slowly. By November it has approached the soil surface and the lower leaves, unexpanded foliage leaves and stalk (or flower bud for flowering individuals), are well differentiated.

  • They then go through another period of dormancy during the winter months and resume growth in March. At this time the unexpanded foliage leaves and stalk begin to emerge above ground.

  • The bulbs then expand rapidly and at the same time new adventitious roots develop from the base of the bulb.

  • The plant renews its bulb each year, consuming the previous year’s bulb during the period of active growth from March to May and producing the bud of next year’s bulb during the latter half of May.

  • Flowering occurs April/May and by late June most of the plants have withered and the capsules ripened.

Fritillary Seed

  • Seeds are shed in June and July

  • These seeds are thought to germinate after cold spells to form procorms in the first months of the following year.

  • The natural spread of the Fritillary is via seed and rarely by bulb.

  • The plant does not move from seedling stage to flowering stage in sequential steps; instead it can stay at the same level of growth or move up or down depending upon resources procured during the year.

  • Reproduction appears to be by flowering individuals only, either through the production of one (or rarely two) bulblets along with the new bulb, or from seed.

  • The seeds are flat and weakly winged: there is an average of 130 in each capsule.

  • Germination takes place in March or April.

The Snakes Head Fritillary

  • Some common names are ‘Snakes Head Fritillary and ‘Oaksey Lily’.

  • Snakes Head describes the plant in  the nodding bud stage whilst ‘Oaksey lily’ refers to it once having been very common around Oaksey, a village in north-west Wiltshire about 6 miles from North Meadow where it grew in meadows around the Swillbrook, a tributary of the Thames.

  • Other names recorded for the plant are-: Bloody Warrior, Chequered Daffodil, Chequered Lily, Chequered Tulip, Cowslip, Crow Cap, Daffodil, Dead Man’s Bell, Falfaries,Fan Cup, Five Leaved Grass, Frits, Froccup, Frockup, Guinea-hen, Pheasant Lily, Shy Widows, Snake Flower, Snowdrops, Solemn Bells of Sodom, Toad’s head, Turkey-Hen Flower, Turk’s Head, Weeping Willow, Widow Wail and Wild Tulip.

  • An old country belief of the wild fritillary was that it followed the path of the Romans, springing up wherever their footsteps had fallen. The flower has been compared with the bell that lepers once carried to give warning of their approach.

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