Natural England - Weasel’s snout puts on a stunning show in Cornish farm’s rainbow fields

Weasel’s snout puts on a stunning show in Cornish farm’s rainbow fields

2 August 2013

Holidaymakers visiting Cornwall this summer have been turning their backs on the perfect blue sea and golden beaches to take a walk across arable fields.

Rainbow carpet of arable plants
Rainbow carpet of arable plants © Pat Sargeant / Natural England

On one of the hottest days of the summer it had to be seen to be believed. The fields at West Pentire on the north coast of Cornwall, however, are not just any arable fields, they are home to one of the finest array of arable plants to be found anywhere in England.

Thanks to a helping hand from Environmental Stewardship, this summer the display of wild flowers at West Pentireexternal link has been one of the most colourful on record. There were carpets of yellow corn marigolds interlaced with purple vetches, red poppies and blue viper’s bugloss. Closer inspection uncovered some of the rarer arable plants that this site is famous for such as sun spurge and the wonderfully named, Weasel’s snout. Wilder areas had cerise pyramidal orchids, yellow rattle and sweet lady’s bedstraw.

Weasel’s snout (Misopates orontium) is also known as lesser snapdragon and is a herbaceous annual plant of arable land. The pink flowers resemble a miniature snapdragon and are followed by a hairy green fruit which is said to resemble a weasel's snout. Like many of the once-common plants found in this part of Cornwall, Weasel’s snout is fast declining in other parts of the country.

The detailed management of the site has been agreed by Natural England, the National Trust and their tenant farmer and is being supported by a ten year Environmental Stewardship Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) agreement which started in March.

Beth Tonkin, Natural England’s Lead Advisor for this part of the north Cornwall coast said: “This is one of the top six most important sites in England for arable plants and the new agreement should help ensure that this amazingly colourful carpet of arable plants appears every summer.”

“We are delighted to be working with the National Trust at West Pentire and delighted that the co-operation and hard work of all involved has resulted in such a successful outcome and glorious spectacle on the farm this summer.”

Although the floral spectacle is now past its best, the multicoloured landscape has been turning heads locally this summer and visitors to the Cornish coast and local people alike have been captivated by the spectacle.

“It’s just like all the colours of the rainbow growing in a field“ commented a visitor from Scotland, who had spotted the fields whilst walking on the coastal path. Meanwhile, two local ladies from Liskeard made a special trip across the peninsula to see the fields in full glory. “We haven’t seen fields as colourful as this since the end of the war,“ said one of the ladies. “It takes us straight back to our courting days!” remarked the other.

The success of the arable plants is also good news for other wildlife, as the flowers are an excellent source of nectar and pollen and attract a wide range of butterflies, bees and hoverflies.