Essex Biodiversity Project
Identification - The Oxlip (Primula elatior) is a medium sized Primula that can reproduce both by seeds and vegetatively (pieces of plant rooting) . The leaves are a long oval shape abruptly narrowing into a long winged stalk. It is downy (hairy), paler green and less wrinkled than other native Primulas. The flowering head droops to one side. The section below describes the flowers and leaf of the three native (indigenous) species. (Photo - Ray Tabor)
Comparison of Primula species
Oxlip (Primula elator)
pale yellow flowers, clustered on stem, all leaning to one side, leaf feels furry, and is "spoon shaped" with a narrow handle like lower section, flaring out into the bowl of the spoon.
Cowslip (Primula veris)
dark yellow/orange flowers with orange stripe in tube, clustered on stem facing all directions, the leaf feels smooth, and the leaf blade tapers gradually all the way down to its base
Primrose (Primlula vulgaris)
pale yellow flat open flowers on single stems, leaf shiny, smooth and tapers gradually all the way down to the base, with the base of the leaf stalk often showing a pink colour.
General ecology - Oxlip is found almost exclusively in ancient woodlands within a 40 mile radius of Cambridge. It is associated with coppice - managed woods such as oak and ash woodlands, mainly on chalky boulder clay. It is an indicator species of ancient woodland along with small leaved lime (Tilia cordata) and the wild service tree (Sorbus torminalis). Its main threats are browsing pressure from deer and rabbits, increasing shade, herbicide, drought, hybridisation with introduced Primulas, and competition from other species. The one exception to its woodalnd habitat is at the meadows in Great Bardfield where it has been re-introduced, and there is more information about this further down the page.
Surveying tips - The best time to survey is during the flowering season - April
Leaflet -An information sheet is available, "The Oxlip - information for landowners" (PDF 5.3MB)
Great Bardfield Oxlip Project
Numbers of this nationally scarce plant have declined dramatically over the past 30 years, so a new project aims to re-introduce the species to one of its former strongholds, Gt. Bardfield in Uttlesford. The Essex Biodiversity Project is contributing expertise and funding to the project.
Gt. Bardfield has a very special relationship with the Oxlip. In the nineteenth century the parish boasted 'meadows yellow with oxlips'. They were so prolific that Doubleday and Charles Darwin used samples from these sites in their work on the plant. As a result, it was known for many years as the 'Bardfield Oxlip', one of the very few plant names to include the name of an English village.
Essex Wildlife Trust, in collaboration with Essex Biodiversity Project, and an enthusiastic group from the village, is introducing pot-grown oxlips to two sites in Gt. Bardfield. The plants are being grown by experts at Writtle College. There will be interpretation and educational opportunities and enhanced access to the meadow sites where the plants will be re-introduced; Piper's Meadow in the heart of the village and a meadow at Bardfield Great Lodge on the outskirts.
Ray Tabor, the former chairman of the Essex Wildlife Trust, is leading the project. He commented, " Oxlips have played an important role in Bardfield's village life for many years. They are seen on the village coat of arms and the schoolchildren's sweat shirts. A countywide survey in 2002, however, showed very few plants remained. The loss of this plant here would be a tragedy for both nature conservation and the village's heritage".
The project was funded by the Local Heritage Initiative, Nationwide Building Society, Essex Biodiversity Project and Braintree District Council.
More detailed information can be seen on the scanned leaflet about the project here (7.5MB PDF)