Tuesday, 21 June 2005


Orchids are often seen as the epitome of rare and endangered flora. In the UK they are often used as flagship species to halt development, and there is no doubt of their tremendous appeal, even to the non-naturalists. For the past 10 years or so I have made an annual pilgrimage to an old Suffolk Green to see the green-winged orchids -- a great expanse of purplish-pink orchids with scattered salmon pink and even white individuals. A sight that evokes the flower rich meadows before the advent of the motor car, pesticides and herbicides.

But this year I was stunned to see two amazing other nature reserves, with vast numbers of orchids. One was land surrounding a pair of trout fishing lakes, created by a Suffolk farmer 25 years ago. Here swathes of spotted orchids had colonised, together with bee orchids, on what was once open farmland. The other was a reserve created out of farmland a decade ago by herpetologist Tom Langton. Marsh orchids have spread all around the ponds he dug to encourage crested newts.

These two private nature reserves show very clearly what the individual can do, and really make an impact. Not everyone has several acres, but combined, our gardens add up to thousands of acres. I am lucky enough to have over three acres -- not enough on its own, but managed with the surrounding area in mind, even this size can have a major impact. So far we have only found a handful of bee orchids, but I am hopeful that in years to come others will spread.

1 comment:

  1. I remember going with John to see the orchids on a Suffolk green years ago. It rained cats and dogs and we didn't find any orchids. However, I have just taken part in the annual orchid count on a reserve outside Cambridge. Twayblade was so numerous that we could not count it, but concentrated on bee, southern marsh, spotted and pyramidal. There were plenty of them. It seems that if conditions are right, you get orchids.

    In the two reserves John describes, it seems that the ground was simply left and seed that had laid dormant took advantage of the new regime and sprouted. What would be nice to know is how to manage for orchids - creating conditions that will encourage the seeds, either dormant in the soil or brought in, to germinate and grow.