The programme aimed at boosting wild orchid growth in Cheshire

The partly restored Crown Farm Nature Reserve at Oakmere

The partly restored Crown Farm Nature Reserve at Oakmere - Credit: n/a

Cheshire Wildlife Trust is working to boost orchid growth in the county. Its living landscape officer Kevin Feeney shares what is being done

Will it soon be possible to go orchid spotting at Crown Farm?

Will it soon be possible to go orchid spotting at Crown Farm? - Credit: n/a

There are just over 50 different species of orchid in Great Britain. But you'll have to look carefully to spot them - many are rare and only found in highly protected sites. But the team at Cheshire Wildlife Trust is hoping to make the beautiful blooms a little easier to spot.

It won't be an overnight fix, though. Most orchid species have a symbiotic relationship supplementing their nutrients by grafting their roots with trees, plants and often fungi beneath the soil. For roots and fungi to develop they require near-natural soils such as those found in unimproved grassland where natural processes are allowed to develop.

But since 1939 in Cheshire, 99 per cent of these vital grasslands have been lost. They are regularly ploughed, fertilised and harvested, creating an unfavourable condition for most wildflowers. But we are determined to restore these important areas across the county, working with landowners to create new meadows through re-seeding projects. This means with good grassland management practice, the soils of Cheshire will recover and many species of orchid will return to the area.

We're also looking at undisturbed and nutrient-poor soils on brownfield sites and disused quarries. These sites may make poor farmland but give perfect growing conditions for the orchid seeds to germinate. The low nutrient levels mean more competitive species cannot out-compete the orchids, allowing them to thrive.

Vivid violets: it is the deep purple and dark spots and lines that give away this marsh orchid

Vivid violets: it is the deep purple and dark spots and lines that give away this marsh orchid - Credit: n'a

You can see it at our new Crown Farm Nature Reserve at Oakmere where, in partnership with Tarmac, around 18 hectares of sand quarry are being reverted into a refuge for wildlife. Three species of orchid have already been recorded in spring 2019 and the expectation is for that number to grow.

Roadside and footpath verges are another good spot to search for orchids. Check out Willaston Meadows, Delamere Forest, Caldy Valley, the Dee Estuary and Macclesfield Forest - all worth a visit in the hope of a glimpse of the purple spire of an orchid. Although at greater risk from mowing in these areas, the leaves are often low-lying and can survive for many years with the flower being topped. This creates a welcome surprise when mowing is missed and wildflowers are allowed to bloom. Make sure to get outside in early spring and summer - it's the best time to search.

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We're lucky that our Cheshire Wildlife Trust reserves are home to a number of different orchids. Take a trip to Hunter's and Warburton's Wood nature reserve along the edge of the River Weaver and you'll be rewarded with the sight of the dainty leaves and flowers of the common spotted orchid. It's a species that grows well in meadows but tolerates shade and can occasionally survive in woodlands. At Red Rocks Marsh at Hoylake you can spot the tall purple cone of the marsh and pyramidal orchid along the central footpath. The damp sand offers little shade or competition from surrounding vegetation allowing these beautiful specimens to flourish.

Alternatively book on to a Cheshire Wildlife Trust members' event and be guided by a keen-eyed botanist to learn the basics in orchid spotting.

The delicate-looking bee orchid

The delicate-looking bee orchid - Credit: n/a

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