Best orchid sites to visit in the UK

High summer is the perfect time to go hunting for some of Britain's most beautiful flowers. Here is our selection of 10 of the best sites in the UK to see orchids.

Meadow flowers
Published: March 23rd, 2022 at 6:45 am
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Orchids can appear to be delicate little blooms which aren’t hardy enough to survive in the variable British climate. However, in many parts of the UK orchid species are thriving, although many do remain a protected species.

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There are 52 orchid species found in Britain (though this number does vary, depending on your source) and these superstars of the wildflower world are a delight to spot in the late-spring and summer months.

Learn more about how to identify orchids found in the UK with this handy orchid guide by BBC Wildlife.

If you fancy learning more about wild plants found in the UK, have a read of our British wildflower guide or common hedgerow plant and flower species to spot. We also have a comprehensive guide to houseplants which includes advice on hardy plants to grow at home and how best to care for them.

Purple flowers in a meadow
Pyramidal Orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis) growing wild in a meadow/Credit: Plazac Cameraman, Getty

Check before you trek

Orchids bloom just once a year, and flowering times are strongly influenced by the weather. In general, they flower earlier in the south and later in the north. Check species flowering times in a botanical guide and consult with local nature wardens to make sure you're not disappointed.
Just remember to never trample or pick any wild orchids you see growing wild as many species are rare and protected by law.

Where to see orchids in the UK

Ainsdale Sand Dunes, Lancashire

Marsh Helleborine ( Epipactis palustris) in bloom/Credit: Getty
Marsh Helleborine in bloom/Credit: Getty

Marsh helleborines and many other orchids species grow in the dune slacks and under the pine trees. Early in the morning, flowers gleam with dew and summer dusks are scented by evening primroses. It is accessible by public transport; just 20 minutes’ walk from the nearest train station. The dunes are open access from Southport to Formby, information on what is flowering is displayed in Ainsdale beach car park. visitseftonandwestlancs.co.uk

Noar Hill, Near Selborne, Hampshire

Purple flower in grass
Early purple orchids are the first to appear at Noar Hill/Credit: Getty

With a wide range of species you can visit from April to August and see orchids flowering. The first to flower are the early-purple orchids and the last are autumn lady’s-tresses. hiwwt.org.uk/nature-reserves/noar-hill-nature-reserve

Badbury Rings, Dorset

itch of Iron age hill fort Badbury Rings. Wimborne, Dorset/Credit: Getty Images
Ditch of iron age hill fort Badbury Rings/Credit: Getty

This iron-age hill fort is managed with grazing cattle and sheep to keep the scrub down so that the orchids thrive. Walk around the rings of the fort and keep your eyes open for orchids. nationaltrust.org.uk/kingston-lacy/features/badbury-rings

Bonsai Bank, North of Sole Street, Kent

Grizzled Skipper
The grizzled skipper, one of the many species of butterflies that can be seen at the reserve/Credit: Getty

A walk through the woods will take you to the area marked as Bonsai Bank. Flower-rich glades support a range of insect life from butterflies to glow worms. explorekent.org

Witton Lime Beds, North east of Northwich, Cheshire

Meadow flowers
See both northern and southern marsh orchids at Witton Lime Beds/Credit: Getty

Chemical residues from industry created this site of scientific interest. It is one of the few places where both northern and southern marsh orchids grow, so you can also see their hybrid blooming here. designatedsites.naturalengland.org.uk

Sandscale Hawes, Cumbria

Sand dunes on coast
Coralroot orchids grow en masse at Sandscale Hawes/Credit: Ashley Cooper, Getty

Look in the dune slacks for thousands of coralroot orchids. You’ll also be treated to the sight of other orchids and views of the estuary and Lakeland Mountains. You’ll be facing west, so sunsets are long and spectacular. nationaltrust.org.uk/sandscale-haws-national-nature-reserve

Kenfig dunes, Glamorgan

Kenfig national nature reserve
This footbridge over the River Kenfig (Afon Cyffnig) connects Kenfig Natonal Nature Reserve and the Margam Moors/Credit: Getty

The best site to see fen orchids, but also contains many other orchid species. You can ring the information centre to check flowering times. plantlife.org.uk/uk/our-work/conservation-projects/coastal/kenfig-glamorganshire

Balranald, Outer Hebrides

Balranald, North Uist, Scotland/Credit: Getty Images
Balranald RSPB Nature Reserve is on North Uist in the Outer Hebrides/Credit: Getty

Traditional land management creates the Hebridean machair (grassy plain) that is carpeted in flowers including marsh orchids. rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/reserves-a-z/balranald

Beinn Eighe and Torridon, Highlands

Mountain range
Grass and stone plateau, Beinn Eighe/Credit: Chris Eilbeck, Geograph

Between Loch Torrin and Loch Maree you can enjoy mountain scenery and particularly Scottish plants among the Caledonian pinewood. Among them, you can see creeping lady’s-tresses. nature.scot

Whisby Nature Park, Lincolnshire

A beautiful rare wild marsh orchid flowering/Credit: Getty Images
A beautiful rare wild marsh orchid flowering/Credit: Getty
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With thousands of southern marsh orchids in the Orchid Glade, it would be hard not to see orchids here if you visit during flowering season, in June and July. lincstrust.org.uk/get-involved/top-reserves/whisby-nature-park


Extract from Flora exotica: the allure of orchids by Susanne Masters

Authors

Carys MatthewsGroup Digital Editor

Carys is the Group Digital Editor of countryfile.com and discoverwildlife.com. Carys can often be found trail running, bike-packing, wild swimming or hiking in the British countryside.

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