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Fentastic news for a rare orchid

Norman Lamb lends his political support to help save the fen orchid from extinction

June 17 2016

Tim Pankhurst handles a rare fen orchid.

Tim Pankhurst handles a rare fen orchid.

Norman Lamb MP for North Norfolk is lending his political support to help save the fen orchid (Liparis loeselii). This tiny delicate yellow species is one of the rarest orchids in the UK. In fact it’s so threatened, there are only two places left in the UK where you can find it growing it the wild; Norfolk and South Wales.  A star among British orchids, growing not on the ground but on little moss cushions.  

Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, Norman Lamb, who has been nominated to ‘champion’ the fen orchid explains “I am very proud to lend my support to Plantlife’s efforts to save the fen orchid, which is such a precious but rare feature of my constituency growing in just three sites in Norfolk . Fen orchid, as its name suggests, grows in fens – marshes flooded by groundwater rich in lime. The exact science behind why the fen orchid grows on moss is not fully understood, but it seems that the moss helps the orchid to adapt to changes in water levels. As a result it has been lost from most of its former sites due to a combination of drainage, habitat destruction and scrub encroachment. The fens of the Norfolk Broads are reliably fed by water coming up from the chalk below, providing the wet conditions this species loves.”

Plantlife’s Tim Pankhurst “Over the last 8 years, we have been carrying out conservation work on the ground to help the fen orchid thrive again but if we want to secure its long term future we also need the support of politicians and others who make the big decisions that affect its habitat. We are delighted that Norman Lamb is acting as its champion to support us and ensure the right practical actions are taken and policy decisions made which will help this unique and vulnerable species thrive again, so it can be enjoyed for generations to come.”

Plantlife is leading a targeted conservation programme to bring the fen orchid back to sites where it once thrived:

  • East AngliaA pioneering new trial is underway to see if the fen orchid can be relocated to new sites. If they survive the move from their natural habitat the fen orchid could be reintroduced to secret sites in Norfolk and Suffolk where the plant once thrived. 
  • North Devon – The sand dunes at Northam Burrows are a last refuge for the fen orchid but they have become overgrown and stable with thick coarse vegetation which is threatening the orchid’s survival. Plantlife have been using giant diggers to scrape away the layers of the vegetation so large areas of bare sand are revealed, creating the right conditions for the fen orchid to thrive. 
  • South WalesIt’s a similar situation on the Kenfig Hill sand dunes which in the last 50 years have also become stable and overgrown with vegetation, a far cry from their natural state. Plantlife are using the same techniques here and tearing up the invasive vegetation to expose great swathes of fresh sand which is vital if the fen orchid is to survive here.

Iconic and threatened English species are being ‘adopted’ by MPs across England, who are acting as ‘Species Champions’ to help improve the species future. From the smooth snake to the nightingale, 20 English species currently facing significant threats have been identified and put up for adoption.  
The initiative was launched this month by the a coalition of seven nature NGOs - RSPB, Butterfly Conservation, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Buglife, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Plantlife and Bat Conservation Trust.