A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Coralroot Orchids - Sandscale Haws, Cumbria

Having previously travelled to Sandscale Haws in Cumbria a few years back in search of Coralroot Orchids but unfortunately drawing a blank and failing to find any in the extensive dune system, I was determined to finally catch up with my ‘nemesis orchid’ this year upon hearing they were having one of the best flowering seasons at the site in over 20 years.

With none recorded in 2013 and just 177 plants counted in 2014, this year’s showing of over 1000 plants was reminiscent of the huge numbers found in the late 80s and early 90s, and meant I had the best chance in several years of finding them.

Luckily, the warden was on site at the car park when we arrived, and after explaining the reason for visiting, he kindly drove us up the beach and to the slacks the Coralroots were growing in – success was guaranteed this time around! After a short ten minute walk through the dune system we had arrived, and sure enough I spotted a small yellow flower nestled amongst the Creeping Willow next to his boot – my first Coralroot Orchid!
Coralroot Orchid - Sandscale Haws, Cumbria
Coralroot Orchid - Sandscale Haws, Cumbria
With the orchids scattered all around the adjacent area amongst the dune vegetation, the warden led us to the flowers that were still in pristine condition (a trip to New York during the peak of flowering meant this was the earliest opportunity to go, with several plants now edging past their best) and left us to admire the colony in all its glory.
Coralroot Orchid - Sandscale Haws, Cumbria
Distributed over a northerly range in the UK, Coralroot Orchids can be found across Scotland and in several colonies in the north of England, although most populations are thought to be relatively small (Sandscale Haws being one of the most popular along with Gosforth Park in Northumberland).

Found in the dune habitat at Sandscale as opposed to woodland and tending to favour the younger and wetter slacks with short vegetation, Coralroot Orchids can soon get overcrowded by the other vegetation here. Grazing and habitat management are therefore critical for this population’s survival, as sadly the dunes are no longer mobile enough to create the new areas of pioneer dune slacks the orchids would naturally colonise after their current slacks age and become unsuitable.
Sandscale Haws - Cumrbia
The slack where the Coralroots were favouring
Sandscale Haws - Cumbria
Creeping Willow plays an important role in Coralroot growth, with the orchid forming a symbiotic relationship with this species in order to survive.
Just 5-14cm tall and with small, dainty white and yellow flowers measuring just 5mm across, Coralroot Orchids are extremely hard to spot unless you get your eye in! Without knowing the exact slacks they grew in a few years ago, it was clear to see how I never quite managed to find them last time around in the absolute maze of dune systems at Sandscale!
Coralroot Orchid - Sandscale Haws, Cumbria
A small in-situ shot from my phone where the surrounding Creeping Willow is obvious
With a variety of other coastal plants and a soundtrack of singing pipits and skylarks, it was a great morning where thankfully the rainclouds that were threatening to break held off and the sun shone throughout! Here’s hoping that the Coralroots have another bumper season in 2016 and continue to thrive here for years to come!
Coralroot Orchid - Sandscale Haws, Cumbria

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