Flowering Beauties

Andy Karran

Read our spotter's guide to Orchids

Gwent Wildlife Trust Senior Ecologist Andy Karran gives us the lowdown on orchids flowering in Gwent this spring and summer

Gwent is home to a huge diversity of plants and animals, ranging from the common to the rare, the plain to the gaudy. There is however one group of flora that particularly seems to excite and intrigue, as they have the kudos of being both rare and very attractive: this is the orchid. In my job visiting Local Wildlife Sites, many times the first thing I am told with great pride is how the orchids are flourishing or asked how do I encourage orchids if the fields do not have them? So I thought this guide would make an interesting read for many of you.

 

There are 25,000 species of orchids world-wide but a more restricted flora of 56 species in the UK. This number is potentially going up though, with advances in DNA work and also more southerly species potentially getting a foothold in southern Britain as a result of Climate Change.

In Gwent, there are historically 21 species now with 16 remaining, as 5 have very sadly become extinct. Some of the 16, such as the Common Spotted Orchid are, as their name suggests relatively common and widespread but it is nevertheless worth bearing in mind that the vast majority of our countryside is devoid of orchids and so wherever they occur they are signalling that you are in a special place.

 

So where can we see our 16 species of orchids I hear you ask?

Well you need to be in the right place and also be there at the right time, as different Orchids flower at different times. As their names would imply the Early Purple Orchid is the first of our orchids to bloom and Autumn Ladies Tresses our last. We are fortunate in that some of our Nature Reserves have superb displays of orchids where 13 possibly 14 of the 16 species can be found, and they are open for all to enjoy. So grab your GWT Guide to Nature Reserves or visit the reserves section of our website and head out on a hunt!

(Please remember the countryside code and never pick any, and also be careful where you stand so as not to trample these flowering beauties.)

The orchid season starts in April and June is peak Orchid spotting time.  Please the info and photo gallery below to help you with Orchid identification.

Orchids to spot in Gwent

Early Purple Orchid

When: April in to May.

Where: This orchid occurs in both grassland and woodlands. They can be found commonly in the grassland of New Grove Meadows, where they grow alongside Green-winged Orchids, so this Nature Reserve near Trellech in Monmouthshire is well worth a trip. It is always nicest to search one out in a woodland however, and Prisk Wood at Penallt and Springdale Farm near Usk are both good sites.

 

Early Marsh Orchid

When: May.

Where: A scarce species in Gwent and not on any of our nature reserves. Langstone-Llanmartin SSSI near Newport may be your best bet to see this species, or possibly take a trip further west to Kenfig Dunes, which is a great site for many other orchids as well.

Green Winged Orchid

When: May.

Where: We are fortunate to have a number of superb sites for this scarce orchid species. Our Pentwyn Farm and particularly New Grove Meadows reserves are fantastic sites holding thousands of spikes forming an amazing display alongside Cowslips at this time of year.

 

Common Twayblade

When: June.

Where: Another species equally at home in grassland and woodland. Relatively common but quite tricky to see until you get your eye in as they are green. Try the grassland at Pentwyn Farm for this species

Common Spotted Orchid

When: June.

Where: By far the commonest orchid, when occurring in abundance can give fields a pink haze, try our Pentwyn Farm and New Grove Meadows reserves for displays of thousands, although finding just one spike in a field that previously had none can be just as exciting as it can be the prelude of many more given the right management and a bit of luck.

 

Heath Spotted Orchid

When: June.

Where: Very similar to the Common Spotted Orchid and can form very confusing hybrids with it. A good site for this is the marshy fields at the joint GWT/Monmouthshire Meadows Group site of Wet Meadow in Trellech.

Southern Marsh Orchid

When: June.

Where: On damper grasslands, the Southern Marsh Orchid occurs at quite a few sites, our Great Traston Meadows hosting 4,000 spikes at the last count.

 

Greater Butterfly Orchid

When: June.

Where: A scarce species, not present at many sites, our reserves at Pentwyn Farm, and Springdale Farm has good populations, thankfully growing in numbers and the peak time to see them is in June. 

 

Lesser Butterfly Orchid

When: June.

Where:  Very similar to the Greater Butterfly Orchid, but altogether a lot rarer in Gwent with the only known remaining site at Slade Woods in the south of Gwent.

 

Bee Orchid

When: June.

Where: Perhaps our most exotic-looking orchid, they can sometimes pop up in all sorts of places out of the blue. Try looking at our Dixton Embankment reserve near Monmouth.

 

 

Pyramidal Orchid

When: June-July.

Where: Very much favours calcareous soils which limits its distribution, can also be found at Dixton Embankment with the Bee Orchids.

Bird's Nest Orchid

When: June

Where: This unusual, chlorophyl-free Orchid doesn't occur on any of our reserves as far as I know but can be found in various woods in the Wye Valley or perhaps try Clydach Gorge near Abergavenny

 

Fragrant Orchid

When: July.

Where: A scarce species in Gwent, a great site is Henllys Bog. July is the best time to see Fragrant Orchids and a host of other rare plant species at Henllys Bog.

Marsh Helleborine

When: July.

Where: Another one of the special species of Henllys Bog, this particularly attractive orchid puts on a good show there.

Broad-leaved Helleborine

When: July in to August.

Where: Never an orchid to appear in great numbers, it can be found occasionally at quite a few sites however. It seems to be a regular along the path from the carpark into our Silent Valley Reserve near Ebbw Vale.

Autumn Ladies Tresses

When: August in to September.

Where: The last of our orchids to flower has a very restricted and sadly decreasing population in Gwent. The cemetery in Chepstow is still host to this species. 

Record you findings

Let us know how you get on with your Orchid hunting over the summer and if possible submit your records to the local record centre SEWBReC http://www.sewbrec.org.uk/submit-records-sewbrecord.page.

As far as we know, Fly Orchid, Frog Orchid, Narrow-lipped Helleborine, Small White Orchid and Narrow-leaved Helleborine are all extinct in Gwent, so if you think you’ve found one of these we really would love to heard about it, so please get in touch with me akarran@gwentwildlife.org or call 01600 740600