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Wild Orchid Returns to Portland

The declining native orchid “Autumn Lady’s -Tresses” and a whole host of other wildflowers are making a comeback on the island of Portland, thanks to work to remove invasive cotoneaster, that’s caused havoc for wild plants and wildlife.

October 28 2013

Autumn lady's-tresses © Hans Hillwaert/CC BY-SA

Autumn lady's-tresses © Hans Hillwaert/CC BY-SA

Plantlife is winning the battle to control cotoneaster that’s invaded large areas of pristine habitats on Portland. The creeping garden escapee is smothering wild flowers such as orchids and gentians but worst hit of all are the intricate lichens, liverworts and mosses that cloak the rocks and ground and give Portland its international importance.

However thanks to over £24,000 funding by SITA Trust, Plantlife are clearing large areas of cotoneaster over the next two years and are already seeing amazing results with the return of the declining autumn lady’s-tresses and other native wild beauties such as, Portland spurge, common bird’s-foot-trefoil and horseshoe vetch. In turn these flowers are starting to attract the threatened Adonis and Chalk Hill Blue butterflies as both these species rely on horseshoe vetch as a main source of food, underlining how important wildflowers are for wildlife.

“The arrival of autumn lady’s- tresses is hugely encouraging and demonstrates that our work to remove cotoneaster is already starting to pay off" says Plantlife’s Lichen & Bryophyte Co-ordinator Tim Wilkins. "Portland is home to some of the UK’s rarest wildflowers, lichens, liverworts and mosses but they have been under serious threat. Swathes of habitat have already been lost under a carpet of cotoneaster. Without action, some local rarities would eventually become extinct. Over the next 2 years we will continue to reclaim habitat for a host of wild flowers, butterflies and other insects that depend on the open maritime slopes and limestone grassland.”

Plantlife have been carefully applying weed killer to the cotoneaster plants to avoid damaging rare wildflowers, lichens and mosses. Instead of spraying, handheld weed-wipers are used in sensitive areas. The conservation charity has  tackled  cotoneaster invasions at similar sites of international importance in Torbay and Avon Gorge where the results have been hugely successful, restoring these vital habitats for the wild plants and the wildlife that rely upon them.

Did you know?

  • Cotoneaster arrived in Britain two hundred years ago, after plant hunters brought it back from China and the Himalayas. Little did they know the trouble it would cause today! Leap frogging garden fences, there are at least 15 species of non-native cotoneaster wreaking havoc on our landscapes and with our wildlife.
  • Portland is in the top 20 of sites in peril due to invasives.Portland is widely recognised as being of exceptional importance for its biodiversity, with over 350 species of wild plants recorded here. It’s one of the richest coastal limestone sites for these plants and other rarities and is the reason Plantlife has identified Portland as part of the Dorset Coast Important Plant Area – one of only 170 in the UK.