Rare orchids destroyed in Daventry by mowers despite warning calls

The bee orchid discovered by Linda Herring
The bee orchid discovered by Linda Herring

Rare examples of wild orchids in bloom on the edge of Daventry were flattened when contractors mowed the verge they were growing on, despite warnings from a member of the public.

The bee orchids were growing on a lane but on Monday last week they were cut down by the county council’s mowers.

Linda Herring from the Grange estate, said: “Last year I was out walking when I happened to spot four bee orchids growing not very far from where I live. I immediately tried to find out who was responsible for cutting the grass in this particular area so that I could stop the orchids being mown down. I emailed NCC Highways several times last year, and two of the orchids did set seed (the other two were mown down).

“In May this year I emailed again to remind them about the orchids, and had no reply. I then tried emailing the contractors when I saw the flower spike appearing on one of the orchids, to ask if the verge could be mown at specific times, to which I again received no reply. From a safety point of view this area does not need constant mowing, as it is not on a busy highway, just a country lane that is mostly used as a footpath by walkers.

“Two out of the four orchids have flowered this year, and they looked wonderful.

“On Monday last week they are gone. Mown down. These orchids can take up to six years to bloom. I cannot dig them up and move them because then I would be breaking the law. I’ve tried to protect these beautiful plants as best I could, but it was just not enough, and I am so bitterly disappointed.”

A spokesman for NCC said: “Grass cutting on the side of roads is carried out for safety reasons and is generally trimmed in a one metre swathe.

“Some areas of the roadside have been designated as a wildflower verge and in these cases the grass would still be trimmed but the swathe reduced.

“If we are provided with an exact location we can arrange for a survey to be undertaken with the Wildlife Trust to determine whether it would be designated as a wildflower verge.”

The bee orchid (ophrys apifera) is relatively common across Mediterranean and southern Europe, and occurs in patches the UK as well.

Its name comes from the lip of the flower, which looks like a bee and has evolved to attract a certain species of bee to pollinate it – that species does not live in the UK so the orchids here self pollinate.

It prefers grassland or open woods on chalky soils.

In the UK the plant has no more protection then other wildflowers. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) it is illegal to uproot any wild plant without permission. Cutting them is legal, as is accidentally uprooting them while carrying out any legal activity like mowing

The extremely similar but far rarer late spider-orchid (ophrys fuciflora) is highly protected – picking, cutting, uprooting, along with selling or possessing dead or alive plants, parts of plants or seeds is all illegal.