THIS serpentine purple sentinel is a beautiful and fragile link to Oxford's past.

This is a snake's head fritillary, today a rare species found growing wild at just 30 sites in the country.

One of those sites is Oxford's Iffley Meadow, one of the reasons the fritillary is Oxfordshire's official county flower.

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Yesterday, volunteers for the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT), carried out their annual survey of the nodding purple flowers and the team of 12 counted a whopping 53,222 of the rare blooms.

Oxford Mail:

Actually, they counted slightly fewer than that, but used a clever bit of maths to work out that that is roughly how many there now are.

BBOWT ecologist Colin Williams said he was very happy with the result – especially compared to the 459 which the trust first counted at Iffley Meadow when they started the annual survey in 1983.

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The only shock this year was that, at one patch of flowers, there were a worrying 10,000 fewer blooms than last year.

Mr Williams said this was almost certainly due to hungry wild deer browsing on the flowers.

Oxford Mail:

He added: "This is the 12th year I've done this and it's the first time I have seen such damage done by deer."

Despite that, the population is doing well, due to the fact that BBOWT manages the wildflower meadow in a traditional way which goes back centuries.

The fritillaries will only be in bloom for another 10 days at most, making a fritillary walk the perfect Easter weekend activity.

What's more, the trust have even put up helpful signs from the Isis Farmhouse pub directing visitors to the best patches.