A rare orchid has been discovered on Oronsay, a small tidal island off the west coast of Scotland. RSPB volunteers surveying the island for marsh fritillary butterflies discovered 160 Irish lady’s tresses orchids, which have never before been recorded there. For a plant that grows at few sites in the UK and Ireland this is a significant find.
“We spotted all these white flowering spikes coming out of the ground,” says volunteer Gill Watts, who found the orchids with her husband Richard. “We thought at first they might be a more common orchid, but after checking with the RSPB reserve manager, we managed to positively identify them. They’re amazingly beautiful flowers, with a musky vanilla fragrance.”
Oronsay nature reserve has been conserved and managed to provide homes for corncrakes, choughs and devil’s bit scabious. It’s thought that these conditions must have been just right for the orchids, which have probably been dormant for years. Named for its pale, tightly bunched flowers, which resemble plaited hair. the orchid is a specially protected species.
Deborah Long from Plantlife, adds: “Plantlife have been working on this species for over 10 years and with new research indicating the extreme fragility of its populations in Scotland, to find a new population on an RSPB reserve inspires hope for the future of the species. Given appropriate management, it just shows that Irish lady’s-tresses orchids can come back to their homeland.”
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