Fen orchid ‘saved’ from extinction in UK, says Plantlife charity
PUBLISHED: 07:00 24 August 2019 | UPDATED: 07:40 24 August 2019
One of Europe’s most endangered wildflowers, which has a stronghold in East Anglia, has come back from the brink of extinction following years of conservation work.
The rare fen orchid, a small plant with pale yellow blooms, is only found growing wild in Britain in two areas, in the fens of the Norfolk Broads and in Kenfig sand dunes in south Wales.
Numbers dwindled to less than 1,400 plants across the two areas as its habitat deteriorated but efforts to restore its fen and dune homes, sustained by long-term funding, have seen its fortunes turned around, wildlife charity Plantlife said.
And the conservationists are now hopeful that, in England at least, the plant could be removed from the "red list" of threatened species.
In East Anglia, work has gone into restoring the fragile fen habitat, where the orchid - rather than being rooted in the ground - grows perched in clumps of moss that grow on peat or sedge tussocks.
The fens were previously actively managed for "marsh hay" for feed and bedding for horses in towns and cities, until the advent of the car, when land was drained for farming or became derelict and overgrown.
A decade of work to manage the orchids' three remaining wetland sites in the Broads, and research that has helped rediscover the plant at two former sites, has seen the total population rise to more than 12,000 plants.
In addition, decades of work to restore wetland habitat in Suffolk has allowed the reintroduction of the plant to some of its former sites in the county.
Plantlife said it was early days for the reintroduction scheme but that there were encouraging signs the orchid could thrive in some of its former sites.
Conservation manager for the East of England, Tim Pankhurst, said: "The species has been saved and we have restored the beautiful places where the fen orchid now thrives to their former glory."
"The work we do on the individual species massively enhances our understanding of the places where they grow - if they work for difficult, iconic species, they're going to work for a huge range of other things."
In Wales fen orchids were once found in eight dune sites along the south coast, but a lack of management meant the dunes became overgrown, with the bare sand disappearing under a mat of vegetation which suffocated the orchid.
It almost completely disappeared from the dunes, and numbers at the sole remaining site at Kenfig, south Wales, fell from 21,000 at the end of the 1980s to 400 in 2011.
But conservation work led by Plantlife to restore the fragile habitat at Kenfig since 2011 has seen a huge revival in numbers of orchids.