Skip to main content

Fen Orchid Programme

After a decade of research and partnership work on Fen Orchids we now believe that the orchid could finally be removed from the Red Lists for both England and Great Britain.

How the programme started

This programme began when Plantlife was invited, in 2007, to join the Fen Orchid partnership in England, led then by Norfolk Wildlife Trust under the Species Recovery Programme (funded by Natural England, then English Nature).

The Trust were Lead Partners for fen orchid in England under the English Biodiversity Action Planning structures then in force.

In 2008, the Trust asked if Plantlife could take over as lead partner. At that point, fen orchid had only been known in 3 sites in England since 1975 and the population had never been known to reach 1000 plants.

Main Work Threads

We accepted that invitation and set about reviewing and revising the conservation programme, following five main threads:

  • Monitoring existing populations
  • Searching for lost and new populations
  • Ecological study
  • Experimental management
  • Reintroduction

Working in Partnership

As with with most of Plantlife’s work  and conservation programmes, the fen orchid programme always has been a partnership effort, with different organisations fulfilling different roles.

We acknowledge the excellent habitat management work undertaken by

  • Norfolk Wildlife Trust
  • RSPB
  • The Suffolk Wildlife Trust at former sites

The programme would not function without the financial, technical and moral support provided by organisations like

  • Broads Authority
  • Norfolk County Council
  • Natural England

We also appreciate the technical expertise and resources contribution to the reintroduction programme provided by:

  • The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
  • Cambridge University Botanic Garden

The Work

Since 2008, Plantlife’s role has been, under the English Species Recovery Programme, to:

  • Undertaken annual counts of fen orchids at a number of sites
  • Act as a data hub for counts, receiving information from other recorders
  • Researched the ecology of fen orchid, here and abroad
  • Search former sites for populations thought to have vanished, and encourage others to do the same
  • Provide management advice for site managers
  • Provide monitoring guidance, including estimation protocols for site managers
  • Assess former East Anglian sites for potential for reintroduction
  • Undertake three reintroductions, one of which survives seven years on
  • Publish what we have learnt of fen orchid ecology, and …
  • Lead the partnership

What have we achieved

The record of the partnership speaks for itself: since 2009, the population of fen orchids in England has climbed year on year.

From fewer than 1000 plants at three sites to an estimated 17,000 plants (in 2023) at seven sites.

The aim of the conservation programme has always been to reduce the Threat Status (as assessed by the English Vascular Plant Red List group) of fen orchid, and, if possible, to reduce the Threat level to Least Concern.

This is a challenging ambition but a recent re-assessment has shown that we are very close to our goal.

This is essentially due to the increase in the number of known English sites combined with consistent population expansion over the last 15 years.

This re-assessment applies also at Great Britain  level, although recovery in Wales has been less rapid.  Work there by Bridgend Council and Natural Resources Wales has produced very favourable results and Plantlife are proud that we contributed to a partnership that found funding for large scale dune restoration work there.