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This autumn, help us find the Britain’s most colourful and important fungi – waxcaps.
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Our Global Advocacy Coordinator, Claire Rumsey, will be at COP28 to speak up for the vital role of wild plants and fungi in the fight against climate change.
As I pack my bags and head off to Dubai, I wanted to share a few thoughts about what’s at stake at the climate COP and what role Plantlife can play at this huge global event. So, what is COP 28?
It’s the 28th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Given the urgency of tackling climate change, these meetings of the world’s governments happen every year; two years ago, COP26 was hosted by the UK in Glasgow.
This COP will be a pivotal moment for the planet and people around the world will be watching closely. At the conference, the first Global Stocktake will take place – this is where Parties will report on their progress towards slashing greenhouse gas emissions and meeting the goal of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (also known as the Paris Agreement, adopted back in 2016).
We already know that progress needs to go faster and further – we are currently heading for about 2.5°C of warming by 2100, even if current pledges to tackle emissions are achieved. So, at COP28 we need to see governments commit to taking more action to cut emissions – and fast.
Alongside that, we’re calling for the framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation to be finalised with references to nature and the vital role it will play in ensuring we adapt to the impacts of climate change.
We’re calling for the framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation to be finalised with references to nature and the vital role it will play in ensuring we adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Well, the first reason is that climate change and biodiversity loss are two of the greatest challenges we’re facing globally, and they are intrinsically linked. There is simply no way to look at one crisis without considering the other.
Wild plants and fungi underpin all life on earth, they provide us with oxygen, food and fibres for our clothes, fuel, medicines and building materials. But on top of all of that, they are also a powerful force to tackle climate change; much of Plantlife’s work focuses on securing recognition of this. For example:
Despite all the incredible work that is being done worldwide to reduce biodiversity loss and the impacts of climate change, it is thought by experts that we are currently in the 6th mass extinction. Latest estimates show that 45 % of flowering plant species could be at risk of extinction. Plant species are going extinct 500 times faster than they would be without the impacts of human activities – and faster than we can describe and name them.
This is the same for fungi, which can be directly affected by shifts in temperature and moisture levels. The overwhelming majority of fungal diversity is directly dependant on plants– whether as beneficial partners, decomposers or parasites – climate-related habitat change that harms plants in turn affects their co-existing fungi.
COP 28 is naturally facing some controversy, and people are understandably voicing concerns about how much will be achieved.
As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “It’s time to wake up and step up.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
We’re at a pivotal moment worldwide as to whether we will meet the Paris Agreement and we need a global commitment to ‘phase out’ not just ‘phase back’ fossil fuel production; otherwise, the outcomes of this COP may not be strong or ambitious enough to see us reach the 1.5°C goal in time.
Armed with the overwhelming scientific evidence about the critical role that wild plants and fungi can play in climate action, we’ll be speaking up at COP28 in person and online. We’ll be joining forces with partners from around the world to fight for urgent and ambitious action on nature and climate together.
For more than thirty years, Plantlife has spoken up for wild plants and fungi; making our voice heard at a global level has never been more important. We will continue to do all that we can to ensure that wild plants and fungi stay at the forefront of governments’ minds when making commitments for climate mitigation, adaptation, and building resilience.
We’re on a mission to raise awareness of how important wild plants and fungi are to life and to inspire more people to take action to help them thrive again and I hope you’ll follow our updates for how the meeting goes, here and on our social media channels!
A recent fungi fanatic, Plantlife’s Sarah Shuttleworth, has been exploring the wonderful world of fungi with her family.
Fancy a half-term adventure for the whole family, that gets the kids outside and interested in nature? Well, the answer is on your doorstep…fungi hunting.
Fungi are one of our most fascinating creations, and best of all, they are right under our noses – perfect for children to spot. You don’t even need to go to a nature reserve, the hunt for fungi can begin in your back garden or local greenspace.
With autumn well and truly here, I have found myself delving into the weird and wonderful world of fungi – very much aided by my children’s interest. The questions about what is this strange looking mushroom, what are these neon blobs, or gelatinous goo on the log – prompted my own interest in jolly-well finding out.
As it turns out, fungi are as diverse and complicated a group as one might expect. And it’s quite astonishing how brilliant children are at spotting them. (I suppose being that much closer to the ground and having 20:20 vision is probably a large amount to do with it!)
You can find fungi in so many places, here are just a few:
On our first trip out, we found more than 30 species in just one hour, ranging from the colourful circus like fungi, to the downright weird freak show of stinkhorns and slime moulds. We have been to woods in the Blackdowns, Dead woman’s ditch in the Quantocks and even round the corner at Thurlbear. All of these places gave us a range of fascinating finds, just by stepping off the path and looking around. Even if you don’t know the species, a few quick photos from different angles and a social media post, will soon increase your knowledge.
I think the children particularly like the sheer surprise element in fungi finding, you really don’t know what could turn up. Plus, the names are a delight – from The Sickener Russula Emetica, Green Elfcup Chlorociboria Aeruginascens, Amethyst Deceiver Laccaria Amethystina, Bearded Dapperling Cystolepiota Seminuda, Snapping Bonnet Mycena Vitilis, Yellow Brain Tremella Mesenterica and Turkey Tail Trametes Versicolor. Some of them ooze blood like droplets, turn bright blue when sliced, smell like honey or puff magic smokey spores when prodded! There are literally so many reasons for not only kids but the kids in us to be fascinated by this world of mycelial magic in the woods.
Here are some top tips for those first-time fungi hunters:
This Autumn, we’re also asking for your help to find Britain’s most colourful and important fungi – waxcaps. Click here to take part and find out more about our #WaxcapWatch– and you might even be able to help us find some important species-rich grassland in the process.
Every autumn one of the UK’s most colourful natural displays takes place: jewel-coloured waxcaps emerge through the grass across our countryside, cities and even some of our gardens. Let’s find them!
Watch Sarah Shuttleworth record her first waxcap find on the Waxcap Watch app.
A place of like-minded enthusiasts where you can share knowledge and photos of waxcaps and related species.
Grasslands like meadows and parks are not just home to wildflowers, they are also an important habitat for a colourful type of fungi which prefer farmland to forests – waxcaps.
Waxcaps are types of mushrooms known for their shiny-looking caps. Together with other types of fascinatingly named fungi called pinkgills, earthtongues, club and coral fungi – they form a group called “grassland fungi”.
Waxcaps and grassland fungi come in a rainbow of different colours including vibrant violets, yellows, greens and pinks.
They also come in weird and wonderful shapes, which can help you to identify the species you’re looking at.
Chris Jones is the Warden at the Kenfig National Nature Reserve, one of our Dynamic Dunescapes sites, and has worked as a practical conservationist for over 25 years.
Kenfig is one of the largest sand dune systems in Wales and provides a unique habitat for a variety of rare and specialised species, including over 20 species of Waxcap fungi.
‘Waxcap fungi are commonly found in grasslands and meadows, and they are known for their ecological importance. They are often found in areas with short, grazed vegetation, but they can also occur in disturbed habitats, such as lawns and roadside verges.
Waxcaps are mostly found in the late summer and autumn, typically from September to November, depending on the local weather – but you can find them all year round.
The meadows where waxcaps are found are known as ‘waxcap grasslands’. These grasslands need specific conditions for waxcaps to thrive and are becoming rare.
On waxcap grasslands, waxcap fungi form partnerships with plants, where they exchange nutrients with the roots of host plants, benefiting both the fungi and the plants. This only happens in habitats with a high level of biodiversity, which the aims to identify.
Waxcap fungi are fascinating not only for their vibrant colours but also for their significance as indicators of healthy grasslands. Their conservation is important for maintaining biodiversity and preserving these unique and beautiful fungi for future generations to enjoy.
Many waxcap species are considered rare or threatened, primarily due to habitat loss and changes in land management practices such as tree planting and intensive agriculture. If you find any, please record them on the Waxcap Watch app.
I LOVE Waxcaps, they are AMAZING! It is ridiculously hard to pick a favourite, but if I had to choose it would be… all of them.’
This autumn, help Plantlife find Britain’s most colourful and important fungi – waxcaps.
Learn from Hywel Morgan, Plantlife’s Agricultural Advisor, about how and why he made the switch to nature friendly farming on his 230-acre beef and sheep farm at the western end of the stunning Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons National Park).
‘I used to do lots of cultivating, reseeding, and fertilising. This impacts wild plant species and soil health, and releases greenhouse gases. I also realised that they were only short-term fixes and never really paid for the cost of the stress and inputs. Often as a farmer you feel you need to be producing at all costs, but financially, the cost of bought-in inputs has increased way past them being affordable.
I changed the system five years ago, after a conversation with a Civil Servant who said that, in the future, farmers would be paid for more nature friendly farming. The transition was challenging, both financially and mentally: the peer pressure to keep farming conventionally was huge.
Post-war the mindset was all about production, and tenant farmers would have lost their farms if they didn’t meet demands. This doctrine has influenced generations of farmers since. It’s meant we’ve lost the connection between how and why we produce the food, and we sometimes forget the benefits of wildlife within the farm system.
Making the change has meant a large reduction in costs and I can see – and enjoy – the benefits of working with nature.
I try to keep everything simple. I have cut out chemicals and fertilisers. This helps to reduce soil fertility and then encourages the growth of wildflowers and other grasslands plants that need low nutrient levels. I’ve seen many more Birds-foot Trefoil, Yellow Rattle, Yarrow, and Plantain since making the change. I’ve also got loads of different species of waxcap in my fields now, some are even of regional importance.
My hedges are now allowed to grow taller and thicker, and only trimmed every three years. I have also planted a lot of trees and hedging over the last few years and created large pond.
Plants need recovery time after grazing so they can flourish. To allow this to happen I now do mob grazing, which is moving cattle in short bursts of high intensity grazing, and bale grazing, which is allowing livestock to feed off a whole, intact bale of hay. I have cut out bought-in feed apart for some hay, and focus on producing high quality, pasture-fed livestock.
I needed a better balance between grazing types, because sheep and cows graze in different ways, so reduced sheep and increased cattle numbers. Without the right management, sheep will nibble out pretty much everything, cattle graze in a less destructive way and are generally better for biodiversity. I’m always working to find out what balance is right for my land.
Government policy should reward smaller family nature friendly farms – it’s a reward for doing good things that benefit all of us. Banks and supermarkets need to support this move too as healthy nutritious food is part of the solution for climate, environment and peoples’ health. More farmer-to-farmer advice and support regarding regenerative agriculture is also needed to move to a sustainable future.
Achieving food security means eating locally and seasonally and certainly, we can’t have a stable food system when nature is in decline. I believe nature friendly farming should just be called “farming” and anything else should be called industrial or chemical farming.’
Discover how you can identify the mosses where you live, and read about Lizzie's challenge to learn 10 mosses!
Grasslands like meadows and parks are not just home to wildflowers, they are also an important habitat for waxcap fungi.
Ever wondered why we need to go out and count rare plants? Meg Griffiths reflects on a summer of lichen hunting for the Natur am Byth! Project.
This summer Plantlife Cymru have worked closely with Carolyn Thomas MS, our Species Champion for Butterfly Orchids, to raise awareness of the importance of grasslands far and wide across Wales.
Species Champions are Members of the Welsh Senedd, chosen to represent threatened species found in their constituency and champion them both within the Senedd and across Wales. Carolyn Thomas MS is deeply passionate about supporting our wildlife, from nature friendly green space management to improving protections for our precious biodiversity.
This year, Carolyn was able to join us and North Wales Wildlife Trust for the big Butterfly Orchid count in our North Wales nature reserve Caeau-Tan-y-Bwlch, in June. Participating in the count meant she was able to contribute first-hand to the monitoring and understanding of a rare and beautiful species.
We counted the highest number of Greater Butterfly Orchids ever recorded at the reserve in over 40 years – some 9,456 flowering spikes of this rare plant were found within the diverse upland hay meadow near Caernarfon. Carolyn reflected on this important day in her Senedd statement on 28 June:
“Last Saturday, as the Butterfly Orchid species champion, I took part in a Butterfly Orchid count at a wildflower meadow, owned by Plantlife Cymru and managed by the North Wales Wildlife Trust. The meadow was rich in diverse species, which has created habitat in return for many animals and insects, such as butterflies, ladybirds, damselflies, crickets, spiders and tiny frogs. The place was alive and very beautiful.“
Another visit to a beautiful meadow just outside Mold in north Wales on National Meadows Day gave us the perfect opportunity to discuss some of the threats that our species-rich grasslands face. Our Species Champion was able to see first-hand how a lack of management was allowing scrub to encroach onto the valuable grassland habitat, but also to hear how the efforts of volunteers were protecting the grassland that remained.
Staff and volunteers from Plantlife Cymru and North Wales Wildlife Trust also talked about how incredibly precious fragments of species-rich grassland can too easily slip through the nets of protection and face damage from neglect, but also from development, agricultural use and inappropriate tree planting.
There was also plenty of time just to appreciate the joy of being in such a beautiful place! We were able to admire both Greater and Lesser Butterfly Orchids, as well as Common Spotted Orchids, carpets of Betony and Lady’s Bedstraw, and we were even treated to the sight of a Slow-worm. Some early Field Scabious was just coming into flower, and sheltered sunny meadow areas were alive with butterflies and moths.
In her statement to the plenary ahead of the visit which you can watch here, Carolyn emphasised to the Senedd the vital nature of thriving green spaces and advocated for the protection and restoration of our species-rich grasslands.
Thank you, Carolyn for supporting us in our mission to support grasslands and the wealth of species that rely on them!
Plantlife Volunteer Story
Ever wondered how biodiverse meadows are made? Plantlife Members and volunteers Andrew and Helen Martin live on a 5-acre smallholding in rural Carmarthenshire.
Here they tell us in their own words about their own ‘Meadow Story’, and how their field is now a haven for orchids and rare plants.
In recent years, the public has been alerted by the media to worry about declines in insects, especially bees. As a former bumblebee research scientist, this wasn’t news to me because the range of many bumblebee species contracted significantly in the middle of the last century. There is little doubt that big changes in UK agriculture (and therefore most of our landscape) were responsible.
To put it very simply, there aren’t as many flowers in the countryside now as there were (for over 1,000 years) So, for us, it was always an ambition to have a little bit of countryside of our own that we could manage for biodiversity, and after my getting early retirement, and Helen being made redundant, we were off like a shot to rural Wales in 2012.
Our fields had been sheep grazed for as long as anyone locally could remember, and they were still being grazed by a local sheep farmer who rents lots of small fields along the Tywi valley.
We decided to manage one of ours as a hay meadow. Research has shown that in a new meadow the plant diversity increases more quickly if you introduce Yellow Rattle, which is partly parasitic on grasses and inhibits their growth. So, in 2013 we collected Yellow Rattle seed from a neighbour’s field about a mile away and sowed it in the field. We began excluding the sheep every year from the end of March and by April 2014 the Yellow Rattle was growing well.
In mid-June 2014 we got the neighbouring farmer to cut and bale the field, but decided that it would be better in future to choose when to cut and so acquired a 1963 tractor and some small-scale haymaking implements.
I’m not particularly keen to produce a hay crop, but for floral diversity the main thing is to ensure that all the cuttings are removed from the field to reduce the soil fertility; and the easiest way to do this is to cut and bale the hay. All we produce is sold to the farmer whose sheep return after the hay cut when grass regrowth begins. I leave the hay cut as late as possible, to allow more species to drop seeds.
Each year, different species’ dominance rose and fell as the county plant recorder predicted they would. For a couple of years there was so much Yellow Rattle, but soon it settled down to more of an equilibrium, while other things rose in frequency then settled down. Eyebright appeared after a couple of years, as did Whorled Caraway (the County Flower), and Cat’s Ear.
Some plants (like Meadow Buttercup) were probably there already, but never got to flower because the sheep ate them. Broad-leaved Helleborines appeared in 2016, and in 2017, a single Southern Marsh Orchid. Common Spotted and Heath Spotted (with hybrids between them) followed, and each year the orchid numbers have increased, it was up to 50 a couple of years back and well over 100 now.
The field looks different as different plants come into flower in succession, but it even looks different on the same day in the morning and in the afternoon because the Cat’s Ear flowers close about lunchtime, so the field is much more yellow in the morning.
In the morning
In the afternoon
Plantlife has done valuable work towards achieving that aim (especially with the recent “Magnificent Meadows” campaign). County Meadows Groups also do their bit to help small landowners to get results like this field, and in the group I chair (Carmarthenshire) we’re also trying to raise the profile of species-rich grasslands generally with the UK wide “Big Meadow Search” (www.bigmeadowsearch.co.uk).
There are few people left who can remember when every farm had a hay meadow, but I hope we can succeed in bringing some back.
Our Welsh reserves are home to a huge variety of wildflowers, but both are nationally renowned for their Butterfly Orchid populations.
Meg Griffiths shares how and why we count the 2 types of Butterfly Orchid species at our nature reserves in Wales, and how it will protect these rare plants for the future.
We are well and truly into summer, and we’ve already witnessed a spectacular succession of wild plants flowering over the last few months. Now that we’ve waved goodbye to the anemones and hawthorn is beginning to fade, we’re welcoming the orchids.
Butterfly orchids are delicate, elegant plants, with a single floral spike bearing many pale, creamy green flowers. Each flower resembles a tiny moth (or butterfly) in flight, with its wings outstretched. They are sweetly scented and can be found growing in a diverse range of habitats, from moors and bogs to woodlands, but most commonly they are found in undisturbed grasslands and meadows.
There are two species, Greater Butterfly Orchid Platanthera chlorantha and Lesser Butterfly Orchid Platanthera bifolia. The differences between them takes an expert eye to spot, and are to do with the angle between the pollen bearing organs of the plant (the pollinia).
Both species are pollinated by moths. At night, the first signal a moth will pick up on is the fragrance of the orchid – once closer the pale flowers will stand out against the darkness.
Unfortunately, both species are experiencing dramatic declines nationally. Greater butterfly orchid is faring the better of the two but is still classed as Near Threatened in the UK. Lesser butterfly orchid has been assessed as Vulnerable on the UK Vascular Plant Red List and has disappeared from over half of its previous range in the last 50 years.
Declines across both species are because of changes in agricultural grassland management – these species need consistent management over a long time to thrive. Damaging land use change could include too much (or too little) grazing, drainage of fields, and even addition of chemical fertilisers. Orchids rely on a soil fungus to survive, and agricultural chemicals can kill off this unseen life support network.
Thankfully, as their habitats are safe and protected within our reserves, these species are still thriving. To be sure of this, every year we participate in the butterfly orchid count to monitor how our populations of these beautiful plants are faring.
This year’s butterfly orchid numbers for Plantlife’s reserve in North Wales, Caeau-Tan-y-Bwlch. This reserve is managed by the North Wales Wildlife Trust who we are so grateful to for all their hard and effective work.
This year’s butterfly orchid numbers for Plantlife’s reserve near Lampeter, Cae-Blaen-Dyffryn.
Monitoring how they are faring is an important part of understanding our reserves and making good management choices. Both our Welsh nature reserves are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and both list the Butterfly Orchids as a notified feature- so there is a legal duty to ensure the populations remain in good condition
We want to be able to demonstrate that the way we are managing land is benefitting them, and counting the number of orchids each year, and gathering supporting habitat information, can help us adjust our site management when we need to. This enables us to give the orchids the best possible chance they have going forwards.
What do the peaks of the Eryri mountains and our garden lawns have in common?
Robbie Blackhall-Miles, Plantlife’s Vascular Plant expert, explains how grazing works to protect our most species-rich habitats.
In Britain, agriculture is a dominant force in the plant communities we have, and our farm livestock is key in replicating the impacts of the constant movement of the wild herds of grazing animals that once roamed our countryside. Many, if not all, of our plant communities rely on some form of grazing or vegetation removal to ensure that they survive.
An understanding of conservation grazing, hay cutting and scrub management can help our most species rich habitats thrive.
Overgrazing is one of the key issues for Arctic Alpine species for example, but of course it is not necessarily the only problem. For some, like plants that live in Calcareous grassland, under grazing may as equally be an issue. Or maybe it’s the fact that the plant community isn’t being grazed by the right type of animal? Or is it that it isn’t being grazed at the right time of year? Or that when its grazed there isn’t enough of the animals that need to be grazing it? Or maybe too many? So many questions!
It’s a question I often ask myself, and one that came up when we developed the Tlysau Mynydd Eryri Eryri’s Mountain Jewels project that forms part of Natur am Byth!. With 10 very different plant species and 2 invertebrate species, we must think about multiple different ways to ensure these are all looked after.
For our tall herb species such as Alpine Saw Wort Saussurea alpina and the Eryri Hawkweed Hieracium snowdoniense we almost certainly need to consider grazing in the Autumn with cattle and maybe a short pulse of grazing in early May.
For the Thyme rich calcareous grassland, with its complement of rare eyebrights (like Welsh Eyebright Euphrasia cambrica), that is so important for the Eryri Rainbow beetle Chrysolina cerealis we probably need sheep right up until late April and then not again until a period in late August or September.
For Mountain Avens Dryas octopetala (pictured) we probably don’t want any grazers near it until the winter. If trees or brambles start to dominate a habitat, then we need a herd of goats but if we want some montane scrub of Juniper and Willow with tall herbs around the edges then the goats mustn’t get near.
By having a combination of all these grazing animals managed and moved into just the right places at just the right time of year we can certainly have a good ‘go’ at getting the conditions right for everything.
What is interesting about this question though is that it is also applicable to our lawns. #NoMowMay encourages us to leave our lawns un-mown for a whole month. We can extend it into ‘Let it bloom June’ but by then the daisies, dandelions and other short turf flowers of early May will have gone over and been outgrown by a multitude of other species.
How can we ensure we please all the species so we can please all our pollinators? Well, we can make a very good go at it by simulating some of those grazing animals with our strimmer and our lawnmower.
To create just the right tapestry of lawn heights in the garden we can use our mower to create paths through our meadow lawns, changing the flow of the paths (maybe missing out some of the special plants that may have colonised the uncut lawn) on a regular basis. This random cutting aims to simulate grazing animals moving through the landscape.
We can even simulate the different types of grazing animals by choosing different heights to cut the paths. If you want daisies again make like a sheep and cut it short, if you want Knapweed and Oxeye daisies to reflower later on in the season you can be a cow and cut some of them before they finish flowering, if you get brambles or nettles then browse them down to the floor like a goat.
By leaving some patches long, some patches medium height and some patches short you will make an interesting mosaic of different lawn habitats that suits as many different species as possible. At the end of the year, before the grass starts to go brown and drop its seeds, one of the most important things you can do for your lawn-meadow is to graze it down completely (just like a huge herd of bison on migration would do) and reset the process for next year’s #NoMowMay fun.
Whether its management of montane grassland and scrub for rare Arctic Alpines or a #NoMowMay lawn, conservation management is an important tool in ensuring we try to please all the species all the time as much as we possibly can. It isn’t a perfectly exact science, and it changes from year to year, and species to species, but the principles are there and for grasslands it’s really just all about the grazing (or mowing).
In the UK we have over 45 species of orchid – which might be more than you thought!
Learn more about this wild and wonderful family of plants with Plantlife wildflower expert Sarah Shuttleworth.
Orchids are part of the largest and most highly evolved family of flowering plants on earth. They are usually highly specialised to a specific habitat, with equally specialised relationships with pollinators, and fungi which live in the soil.
The majority of species reproduce via tiny seeds that are known as ‘dust seeds’ which need perfect conditions to germinate – with some species even relying on specific types of fungi in the soil for them to grow. This means that conditions in the soil and habitat need to be exactly right for an orchid species to thrive, hence why we don’t encounter them all the time.
One UK orchid has gained huge notoriety for its rarity, the Ghost Orchid Epipogium aphyllum. This species is currently regarded as extinct but with hopes for its re-discovery. Occurring in Beech woodlands in deep leaf litter where gets its energy from decaying matter, it’s appropriately named for its pinkish white ghostly appearance rising from dead leaves.
Although orchids are not the most common plant you will find, they do occur in a huge variety of habitats. Traditional hay meadows and pastures can host several species, the most common of these are
Many orchids also specialise in woodlands, for example Early Purple Orchid Orchis mascula, Helleborines Epipactus sp and Bird’s-nest Orchid Neottia nidus-avis (pictured), a fascinating yellow orchid without any chlorophyll that depends entirely on getting its food from decaying material in the leaf litter. There are also species that grow in fens and bogs, pine forests, heathlands and dunes.
The majority of the time due to the specific requirements for growth, orchids tend to be associated with long established habitats, that haven’t had lots of disturbance. Therefore, a nature reserve can often be a useful place to look.
The best time of year to look for orchids tends to be late spring and early summer. Quite a few UK orchids have spotted leaves, making them even more distinctive and easy to spot.
They are perennial plants, and in the UK are formed of a spike of flowers on a single stem. They all share a similar flower structure, despite the huge variety in their appearance. There are 3 sepals (outer protective petal-like parts) and 3 main petals, with one that usually forms a lower lip known as the labellum. This lip is often the largest and most distinctive ‘petal’ structure of the flower.
Often their intricate design and some species astonishing mimicry to tempt pollinators is one of the most intriguing features of these plants. With Bee and Fly Orchids imitating these insects to attract them to land on the flower, mistaking them for a potential mate, and thereby pollinating the flower.
The key features of orchids for identification other than habitat, are the leaves (shape and markings) and the lower lip of the flower (labellum). The easiest species to start with are Early Purple Orchid, Common Spotted Orchid, Bee Orchid and Common Twayblade. This is because they are relatively more common than other species and most can occur in grassland and woodland habitats.
Early Purple Orchids are out amongst the bluebells in older woodlands amongst the Bluebells or edges of woods around mid-May. They are a fuchsia pink/purple colour with minimal patterns on the lower petals, and have spotted leaves at the base.
Green-winged Orchids can be found in species-rich, old meadows, often popping up with lots of Cowslips in mid-May. They don’t have spotted leaves and have green streaks on the pink/purple wing like petals.
Early to mid June is then the best time to look for Common Spotted and Bee Orchids in the species-rich grasslands. They have spotted leaves that occur up the stems, and much paler flowers than the Early Purple, that are streaked and patterned with dark pink.
Bee Orchid is very distinctive with its mimicry of a bee flower and unmarked green leaves.
Common Twayblade has two large, rounded leaves that grow opposite each other, with the flower spike starting as a knobbly spike between the two leaves, growing taller to display small green flowers that appear to have two dangly legs.
It is always exciting to find any kind of orchid, and worthy of a photo! Just remember to be careful not to tread on any nearby orchids that are just coming up. Share the photos with friends, as you never known who doesn’t know that our wonderful UK orchid species even exist.
FSC Orchid Guide
The Orchid Hunter by Leif Bersweden
Britain’s Orchids A Field Guide to the Orchids of Great Britain and Ireland by Sean Cole, Michael Waller and Sarah Stribbling
Three Hagges Woodmeadow Site Manager Kara shares what volunteers do, from coppicing to nature surveys, and how you can get involved.
For getting up close to our tiniest wild plants and fungi, you'll need a hand lens. Learn how to use one and get top tips on buying your own.
The nature and climate crises are inseparable challenges: healthy species and habitats provide essential solutions to climate change, absorbing carbon and increasing resilience. Yet many carbon-focused initiatives are blind to the importance of plant and fungi diversity or can even do more harm than good, causing damage and destruction to our most precious wildlife.
Nature-based solutions to climate change rightly focus on trees, wetlands and peatlands, but often overlook the importance of the world’s permanent grasslands. From the smallest British wildflower meadow to the great steppes, savanna and prairies, these grasslands are home to thousands of species, many of which are threatened and endangered.
Grassland ecosystems are often undervalued in climate mitigation strategies. Yet they store between 25-35% of the world’s land based – or terrestrial – carbon, 90% of it underground. While grasslands, savannahs and rangelands store less carbon per area than forests, their underground stocks are considered safer in areas of high fire or future logging risks. Grasslands with high biodiversity can sequester even more carbon and be more resilient to the effects of climate change.
In a briefing and case studies published jointly with WWF, we demonstrate how grassland protection and restoration can support a sustainable and equitable food system, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, sequester and store carbon, provide resilience to extreme weather events, support food security and rural livelihoods, improve health and wellbeing, and boost biodiversity.
For Plantlife and its partners, this highlights the fact that wild plants and fungi are at the heart of tackling the biodiversity and climate change crises together. To promote the wider recognition of this internationally, Plantlife has worked across the world to build a growing global network of Important Plant Areas (IPAs), which contain some of the best wild plant and fungi species and habitats. You can explore the world of IPAs through our interactive story map.
We are calling on governments around the world to align their climate and nature goals in international agreements as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. With ambitious goals in place, we need local communities, leaders, and governments to identify and recognise those precious sites for wild plants and fungi, and then collaborate on their protection or restoration – for nature, climate and people.
Grasslands, savannahs and rangelands are huge carbon stores, vital global resources forbiodiversity, food and freshwater security, and offer many ecosystem services to support climatemitigation and adaptation.
Case studies on the importance of grasslands ecosystem in the UK, Brazil, Mongolia, Ethiopia and Kenya.
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