Saving England's most threatened species from extinction

Introducing the Lesser Butterfly Orchid

My interest in orchids started as a teenager, working in my school holidays on a nature reserve in the Chilterns, which at the time had more orchid species recorded there than at any other site in the UK. The diversity of orchids present there with their varied colours and floral structures was not only interesting in its own right but also inspired a broader interest in, and passion for, wild flowers that has continued with me to this day.

With their varied, attractive and quirky forms - orchids are a group of plants that draw interest and intrigue even amongst individuals who have no particular interest in flowers. People who have wild orchids growing in their garden or meadow are usually proud of it and see the plants as something unusual and special.

So, it is sad that the Lesser Butterfly Orchid has been identified as a plant to be part of the Back from the Brink Project - thought to be one of the fastest declining plant species in the UK.

This delicate, angelic looking, white orchid with its long lip and spur and spreading pale sepals has a wide distribution - although it has been lost from much of its former area and is now mostly found in the west of Britain, with its stronghold in the west of Scotland. The plant can grow in a range of different habitats including culm grassland, wet heath, bogs, mires and chalk grassland as well as in woodland.

As with many species, agricultural intensification has been a significant factor in its decline with drainage, fertilising and reseeding of unimproved grassland and heaths. It can, however, tolerate some heavy grazing. Orchids, in their seedling stage, rely on a symbiotic relationship with a fungus species as well as the presence of pollinators - which in the case of the Lesser Butterfly Orchid are night flying moths.
Habitat management to benefit the plant will include scrub clearing, appropriate grazing, as well as burning and this will also benefit a range of other species.

 

Mike Ingram

Project Officer.

1 thought on “Introducing the Lesser Butterfly Orchid

  1. Thanks for that helpful introduction, Mike. You paint a vivid picture of why this plant is so special and needs our help.
    Devon Wildlife Trust is really pleased to be working with you on such a worthwhile project. Hopefully we will see a recovery of this wonderful species.

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