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Highest orchid count for 25 years at Plantlife reserve

The highest number of greater butterfly-orchids for 25 years has been counted at Plantlife’s Caeau Tan y Bwlch reserve, near Caernarfon, with a total of just under 3,500 orchids - well over double the figure for 2010.

July 21 2011

One of the greater butterfly-orchids growing in the Plantlife reserve. © Aubrey Evans

One of the greater butterfly-orchids growing in the Plantlife reserve. © Aubrey Evans

A lot of fingers were needed for this year’s annual count of butterfly-orchids at the Caeau Tan y Bwlch reserve, led by Plantlife Cymru’s Conservation Manager Dr Trevor Dines.

Why is greater butterfly-orchid doing so well at the reserve? - Hay-cutting has been reintroduced to suppress vigorous grasses and allow more wild flowers to thrive. - Large areas of gorse have been cleared and these areas are now covered in orchids that have spread from nearby. - The level of grazing has been increased and fencing of the site has been improved to control livestock. Orchid numbers have been increasing steadily: 335 in 2008, 953 in 2009 and 1439 in 2010.

The final total was 3495 orchids, up from 1439 in 2010. The conservation charity counted the native white orchids in eight of the reserve’s ten fields; in one field, where no more than ten orchids have ever been recorded, there were an astonishing 304.

“We did the count on a misty Saturday morning with four hardy volunteers" said Plantlife Cymru Conservation Manager Dr Trevor Dines. "I had the figures for the previous years so it was with increasing excitement that we went from field to field recording these fantastic totals. Greater butterfly-orchids are gorgeous with a faint vanilla scent but have disappeared from many sites across the UK. Orchid numbers do fluctuate and they will have liked the warm spring but such a huge increase is a real vote of confidence in the management we have introduced here over the last few years with the North Wales Wildlife Trust.”

Caeau Tan y Bwlch (which means “the fields below the mountain pass”) is a nature reserve on the northern slopes of Bwlch Mawr, with some of the last unimproved grassland fields left on the Lleyn Peninsula and with extensive clawdd (earth and stone walls) still in place. The upper fields support 138 species, including common knapweed, bird’s-foot-trefoil, lady’s-mantle, adder’s-tongue fern, heath spotted-orchid, northern marsh-orchid and greater butterfly-orchid.

On the lower, wetter slopes, a variety of ferns, sedges and other water-loving plants thrive, such as wood horsetail, marsh violet, bogbean, cuckooflower and devil’s-bit scabious. Visitors in July and August are likely to see black knapweed, common bird's-foot-trefoil, heath spotted-orchid and devil’s-bit scabious, as well as the greater butterfly-orchids, which are currently at their best.

The meadows are grazed from September to April each year and the drier meadows are cut for hay in late summer. Both these management practices have had good results for the wild flowers on the reserve, which is owned by Plantlife and managed by the North Wales Wildlife Trust.

Plantlife Cymru’s work is carried out thanks to assistance from the Countryside Council for Wales.

For more information and images, please contact:

Sue Nottingham Senior Press Officer 01722 342757 / 0786 1655438 /
Trevor Dines Plantlife Cymru Conservation Manager 01248 670691 /