Burnt Orchids

, 25 May 2014

Author Graeme Lyons

Senior Ecologist

burnt orchid / Graeme Lyons burnt orchid / Graeme Lyons

For the last five years I have looked for the mythical burnt orchids that Reserve Officer Steve Tillman found around ten years ago at Southerham

but no one has seen since. Until now that is! Yesterday I started mapping and/or counting the rarer plants of our chalk grassland site Southerham. I was concentrating on mapping chalk milkwort and white horehound. I was going to attempt my annual search for the burnt orchids when I met up with Steve at Bible Bottom, I really didn't think we would find them.

Independently, Steve and I both came to the conclusion that chalk milkwort seems to grow only on the very best parts of the chalk and could maybe be an indicator for other interesting plants. The chalk milkwort is by no means ubiquitous at Southerham like common milkwort is, in fact it grows in discrete but diffuse patches that lend themselves well to mapping. In fact the area where the bastard toadflax is, is in a chalk milkwort area too (but that is too hard to find until it's in flower). I did see some yesterday but only by getting on my hands and knees, I'll go back to do this in a month. Anyway, we were surprised at how little chalk milkwort there was compared to what are memories were telling us, I believe this is the fault of our memories though and not a decline in the plant and demonstrates the importance of detailed monitoring. Memories change the more you access them, Excel files don't.

Right at the top of the slope, way further up than I would have thought to search, we found the first patch of chalk milkwort we had seen in all the huge area of Bible Bottom and ten metres beyond this I walked right up to a single burnt orchid. Suddenly there were four more and then Steve found another seven. Despite a thorough search, we didn't find any more. Twelve specimens tallies with what Steve recorded all that time ago. Another point this illustrates is the importance of taking accurate grid references, we only ever had a six figure grid reference for the old record. Now we can monitor these plants and keep an eye on them. A brilliant and unexpected end to the week! Not the best photo in the world but I don't care as this is evidence that we have our own burnt orchids!

Southerham nature reserve / Graeme Lyons Southerham nature reserve / Graeme Lyons

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Leave a comment


  • lynnette:

    Great to hear we have the burnt orchids back at Southerham!

    30 May 2014 09:33:37

  • Hi, Graeme,
    Super story. I’m not local, but I am a fan. Native orchids are so fabulous – and need protecting. I do agree with your point about monitoring – it’s simply vital.

    As a bit of an orchid maniac, I run a small blog. Would you be happy if I did short posting about your work at Southerham? And added a link to your own blog? The link is here, if you’d like to check it out: http://orchidmania-pk.blogspot.co.uk/

    Thank you.

    11 Jun 2014 13:42:52

  • Hi Pamela, thank you for your comment. It would be great if you could feature our work at Southerham and the burnt orchids on your blog. Please use any images from this page if you wish.

    11 Jun 2014 13:59:03

  • Rob Church:

    Hi Graeme, Looking at your photos of the burnt orchid, i am guessing these are the late flowering variety aestivalis. I have been photographing our wild orchids for many years now in Hampshire , Kent,
    and now East Sussex, where i am back living. I have yet to see a burnt orchid (i believe the aestivalis is mainly only found in our county). Would love to find and photograph this orchid it if at all possible? Hope you can help.
    btw, I was happy to recently find , and photograph, an example of Anacamptis pyramidalis Var.albiflora, which i found locally.
    Regards, Rob

    28 Jun 2014 08:50:56