Orchid hunting in Lockdown

Early purple orchid

There are some lovely Wildlife Trust reserves just a couple of miles from where I live on the Woolhope Dome in Herefordshire. Lea and Pagets wood is a place I often visit on my birthday because that is peak bluebell time. This wonderful ancient wood has also always had a fair scattering of Early purple orchids (Orchis maculata) a dozen here and a dozen there. But this year my visit was full of surprises.

Deep in the wood is a new coppice coupe. The wood is well managed by the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust and as a Thursday volunteer I have coppiced here myself on many occasions. Coppicing is the practice of cutting a tree just above ground level and allowing the regrowth to sprout all around the cut stump. If the new growth is protected from browsing by deer, the tree will be renewed and form a coppice stool where several thin trunks emerge from the base rather than one thick trunk. This was done in the past to create useful wood products for fences and tools. Nowadays it is more likely to be done as part of woodland management, providing habitat for species such as dormouse and fritillary butterflies.

Where the trees were cut last winter there is now a mass of wild flowers

The new coppice in Lea and Pagets wood is awash with Early purple orchids, there are hundreds of them. In places there are more orchids than bluebells. I also found a single Greater butterfly orchid, which is in a couple of other spots locally, but I’ve never seen any in the wood before.

So my bluebell walk turned out to be a real birthday treat.