Posted 23rd Jun 2017
Summer is the time for wild flower meadows, with hillsides ablaze with colour and buzzing with insects
The undoubted star of the wild flower world are the orchids - and now is the time to go out and enjoy them. There are around 50 species in the UK, some of which are common and widespread, while others are among our more sought after rarities, which will be found in only a number of locations.
The beautiful bee orchid, whose flower mimics a furry-bodied bee to fool pollinators, is amongst the most common species, and will often appear on road verges, grasslands and open ground near gravel pits. Its understated cousin, the fly orchid, pulls off a similar trick on the edge of woodland.
Keep your eyes peeled for the bizarre bird's-nest orchid deeper in the woods. Growing up from dense leaf litter, the bird's-nest orchid is a parasite, stealing its nutrients from the roots of trees. It will subsequently have dispensed the green chlorophyll that other plants use to make their own food, and is a ghostly creamy-brown.
On chalk grassland, keep your eyes peeled for dense pink flower spikes of pyramidal orchids, and the taller, cylindrical spikes of fragrant orchid, which will smell sweet, especially in the evening. The lizard orchid is a 'smellier' variety, which is found at a few sites in the south of England. This giant among orchids has a spike of gorgeously twisty, spiral-tipped 'lizard' flowers and will smell strongly of billy goats.
The key to finding orchids is to do your research in advance, so you can target the right habitats at the right time of year. There are a number of sources of information - for example start with your local Wildlife Trust. When you're out, be careful where you tread - as well as the obvious flower spikes, there can be plenty of non-flowering leaf rosettes you could unwittingly be trampling. You should also avoid picking the flowers - it may be tempting but some are legally protected, meaning you could be breaking the law.
If you find yourself unable to visit some of the special locations listed below, there are many different habitats across the country where they could be.
Hartslock in Oxfordshire is a fabulous swathe of chalk grassland which overlooks the Thames, and is renowned for its hundreds of monkey orchids which are found at just three places in the country, as well as lady orchid, and unusually, the hybrid of the two. Orchids found here include bee, pyramidal and common spotted orchids, common twayblade and white helleborine, while you can witness red kites soaring overhead. Both chalkhill and Adonis blues will add some colour later in the summer.
Other sites include:
Armagh, Milford Cutting
Ayrshire, Feoch Meadows
Berkshire, Greenham and Crookham Commons
Brecknock, Vicarage Meadows
Buckinghamshire, Aston Clinton Ragpits
Cumbria, Waitby Greenriggs
Derbyshire, Priestcliffe Lees
Derbyshire, Rose End Meadows
Dorset, Fontmell Down
Durham, Blackhall Rocks
Durham, Bishop Middleham Quarry
Essex, Chafford Gorges Nature Park
Gloucestershire, Elliott (Swifts Hill)
Gwynedd, Caeau Tan y Bwlch
Gwent, Pentwyn Farm
Hampshire, Noar Hill
Hertfordshire, Frogmore Meadow
Isle of Man, Close Sartfield
Kent, Yocklett’s Bank
Kent, Downe Bank
Kent, Park Gate Down
Lancashire, Salthill Quarry
Lincolnshire, Whisby Nature Park
Nottinghamshire, Wilwell Farm Cutting
Oxfordshire, Warburg Nature Reserve
Suffolk, Winks Meadow
Surrey, Howell Hill
Warwickshire, Ufton Fields
Wiltshire, Lower Moor Farm
Worcestershire, The Knapp and Papermill
Yorkshire, Wharram Quarry