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Parish Grasslands Project

Flower Survey

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Yellow-rattle - Rhinanthus minor

This is the yellow snapdragon-like flower that grows amongst the grass in hay meadows. It is an annual that flowers in May and June, then sets seed in capsules that rattle when shaken. Traditionally, farmers took the onset of rattling as a sign that the hay should be cut. Mowing scattered the seed and set up hay-rattle for another year. Being an annual that produces copious seed, it is highly responsive: if a field is grazed during its growing and flowering season, it is greatly diminished or eliminated, but if a few seeds are scattered into a haymeadow, the species will spread rapidly in subsequent years.

Survey Results Map

A century ago it was very common in pastures (this must mean hay meadows, which are grazed in late summer until spring), and in 1948 it was common in pastures and meadows. In the 1990s, it was recorded from 40 fields on the Hudnalls (not yet shown on the map), but not in the farmland of the plateau, and not in roadside verges.

The 2017 records show that yellow-rattle is still widespread on the Hudnalls and can be found in small numbers elsewhere, but it seems to be absent from most of the two parishes. If the 1990s records were also placed on the map, it would look as if it has diminished a good deal, but that would be an artefact of survey: I was mapping the grasslands in its flowering season in the 1990s and using yellow-rattle as a sign that the grass had formerly been mown. Nevertheless, I suspect that there is less yellow-rattle now than in the 1990s, simply because fewer fields are being cut for hay.

Verdict

  • Probably declined from a parish-wide species in 1920 to a species of the Hudnalls in recent years.
  • Probably somewhat reduced in the last 20 years, but well able to recover lost ground when it gets the chance.

George Peterken