Endangered orchid could be saved on Norfolk Broads

The rare Fen orchid which is trying to be saved from extinction. Photo: Plantlife

The rare Fen orchid which is trying to be saved from extinction. Photo: Plantlife - Credit: Plantlife

It may not necessarily look anything special, but this is one of the country's rarest and most endangered species.

Found in the wild in only three sites across England – the precise location of each, including one in Norfolk, shrouded in secrecy – the fen orchid has all but vanished from the landscape.

But a pioneering project begins in Norfolk today to see if they can be moved back to areas where they once thrived.

The first stage will see some of the orchids removed from a secret location in the Ant Valley, on the Norfolk Broads, and taken home by one of the conservationists to see if they can survive transplantation.

Tim Pankhurst, regional conservation manager at Plantlife, said: 'In the wild, most fen orchid sites have been lost through drainage and changes in fen management.

'Unlike other British orchids, they have very few roots and instead live perched on little mounds of moss. This makes them especially sensitive to drying out.'

Mr Pankhurst, a plant ecologist, has selected some tiny fen orchid plants that he will uproot – each on its own cushion of moss – and bring home in sealed containers.

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He will then put them in his shed overnight and check on them in the morning.

He added: 'These tiny VIPs, or Very Important Plants, are very vulnerable and highly sensitive to changes in their environment but if they don't succumb to the trauma of moving, drying or overheating overnight I'll know that our rescue mission can go ahead.'

If the fen orchids survive, Mr Pankhurst will replant to see how they grow next year. If all goes to plan, the experiment will pave the way for more fen orchids to be relocated to former sites in Norfolk over the next two years.

These locations will be kept top secret as a security risk could be posed to the plants, if they were known as orchid hunters and interested tourists could damage them in their pursuit of them.

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