Meadow foxtail

In the summer, County Recorder Richard Aisbitt identified meadow foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis) in our fields, a tall grass with a furry flower head that looks like a fox’s brush: hence its name.

Meadow foxtail is the main food plant for the caterpillars of the reserve’s small skipper butterflies, which also overwinter as pupae in tightly woven silk cocoons attached to its stems. But modern life can be tough for Lepidoptera that rely on a single species of grass.

It has long been common agricultural practice to plough up traditional grassland and plant it with a high yield species of grass, usually perennial rye-grass. There is no place for small skipper caterpillars in a field of rye grass and nowhere for the pupae to overwinter.

All the flower meadows in the world won’t help butterfly numbers if we don’t also plant food for the caterpillars and cultivate places where a species can safely overwinter.

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