Britain's loveliest wildflower makes a fuss and fights for survival

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The Independent Online

One of Britain's loveliest wild flowers, in bloom now, has declined so much in its distribution and range that it isfound in only 18 places in the country.

One of Britain's loveliest wild flowers, in bloom now, has declined so much in its distribution and range that it isfound in only 18 places in the country.

The pasqueflower, a striking purple and yellow anemone, used to be common on the sheep walks of the Cotswolds and on chalk and limestone grassland in parts of eastern England. But its natural habitat has been ploughed and has become so fragmented that the flower exists only in scattered "islands" in the countryside.

One of these is next to the village of Barnack in Cambridgeshire, the curiously-named Barnack Hills and Holes National Nature Reserve. The reason for the name is apparent when you enter the 50-acre site: it is a strange-looking assemblage of pits and mounds covered with short grass.

Because of its difficult topography it has never been put under the plough, and so the limestone grassland covering it, which once stretched for miles in all directions, has survived. It is immensely rich in wild flowers: there are more than 300 plant species, including rock rose, wild thyme, and seven species of orchid.

The pasqueflowers are the highlight, covering south- facing slopes and contrasting vividly with the surrounding bright-yellow cowslips. Visitors travel long distances to see them.

Chris Gardiner, the English Nature site manager at Barnack, said: "In terms of its range and distribution, and how much of it there is in the countryside overall, you're not going to stumble across the pasqueflower on a country walk any more. You're going to have to go to the places where it's almost being specifically managed for, because it's a very fussy plant and it has very special habitat requirements."

These are closely-grazed grassland and poor, thin soil - otherwise Pulsatilla vulgaris would be outcompeted and smothered by other species.

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