Thursday, 11 June 2015

Orchid Army

Q: What do monkey, fly, lady, soldier and lizard have in common?
A: They are all species of British wild orchids!

There are dangling men, bonneted ladies, furry bumblebees and sticky fly lookalikes among the 56 species recorded in our country. Every bit as exotic as their hothouse cousins these flowers are exquisite to look at and not all as rare as might be assumed (though some, such as the lady's slipper orchid, exist thanks only to breeding programmes, top levels of secrecy and professional security guards).

Yesterday evening the Wildlife Trust and volunteers joined forces at Fulbourn Fen nature reserve for the annual orchid count. Six species are known here, but the focus was on the marsh orchid. I joined in as our army of fourteen walked side by side in a staggered line, aiming to cover the entire section of the site, regardless of thistle and thorn. 'You're out of line', the orchid drill sergeant shouted, but I think I got the hang of it eventually...

The small colony of 200 marsh orchids recorded in 2001 had increased last year to over 2000. Last night's total is still being totted up, but it was looking very healthy, with the marsh orchids appearing to outnumber the common spotted species found growing among them. Signs are that the Wildlife Trust's management plan for retaining the damp conditions of this ancient fen are working harmoniously. Volunteers and locals can help influence this; look out for work parties advertised through the Wildlife Trust website or on the village's community newsletter Fulbourn Forum. Every year a bit of brute force is required to battle the encroaching scrub that creeps into the fen and threatens to engulf everything.

Meanwhile this summer there's a call to action from the Natural History Museum and their new Orchid Observers project. Go on an orchid safari this month (June is peak time for most of our orchid species), take photographs and send in simple details such as site and date. There, done.

Marsh orchid photographed by Jo Sinclair

Common spotted orchid photographed by Jo Sinclair

Orchid count at Fulbourn Fen - photo Jo Sinclair

Orchid count at Fulbourn Fen - photo Jo Sinclair

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