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....

Friday, 15 July 2016

Lady's Slipper Orchids at Gait Barrows NNR, Cumbria - The Lady of the Limestone

The Lady’s Slipper Orchid – perhaps the most well-known and charismatic of all our British orchids. Collected from its limestone haunts to near extinction in Victorian times, just one native plant now remains in Yorkshire – guarded each year and shrouded in secrecy to ensure its survival.
Lady's Slipper Orchid - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Surely one of our most impressive looking native flowers, the sheer class of a Lady’s Slipper Orchid in full bloom is unrivalled – I have yet to meet anyone that doesn’t exclaim “wow” when they see one for the first time. Tall and elegant, with thick green leaves shrouding the delicate golden pouches framed perfectly by the twisting curls of rich maroon purple sepals – there is no doubt about it, the Lady’s Slipper Orchid brings a touch of glamour and the exotic to our British countryside. 
Lady's Slipper Orchid - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slipper Orchids - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Having previously seen the well-known Silverdale plant (of dubious origin – it was apparently of Austrian stock and planted out in the early 20th century in an attempt at landscape gardening) in Cumbria 7 years ago when it was still flowering (apparently there are only seedlings there now) I was keen to catch up with the reintroduced population of Lady’s Slippers at the nearby Gait Barrows NNR – a fantastic reserve that I have visited once before in successful pursuit of Dark-red Helleborines.
Lady's Slipper Orchid - Silverdale, Cumbria
The Silverdale plant back in 2009
Missing the official Lady’s Slipper Open Day due to being up in the Outer Hebrides, we made the journey up the following Wednesday, and were soon on site admiring this truly remarkable plant.  Having never visited before, I experienced the same excited ‘wow factor’ reaction as when I first set eyes upon the Silverdale plant all those years ago – Lady’s Slippers truly are a work of natural magnificence. 
Lady's Slipper Orchid - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slipper Orchid - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slipper Orchid - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slipper Orchid - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slipper Orchid - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slipper Orchids - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slipper Orchid - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Pollination in action!
Lady's Slipper Orchid - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Having been cultivated from native seed (the wild Yorkshire plant crossed with several native collected specimens preserved purely for that purpose) after a lengthy research project before being transplanted on to the limestone pavements at Gait Barrows (one of several reintroduction sites) the abundance of Lady’s Slippers in the surrounding glades and limestone is a sign that the reintroduction project is gathering pace, once more giving the public the opportunity to admire this plant in a truly natural setting. 
Lady's Slipper Orchid - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slipper Orchid - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slipper Orchid - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slipper Orchid - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slipper Orchid - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slipper Orchid - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slipper Orchid - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slipper Orchid - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slipper Orchid - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slipper Orchid - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slipper Orchid - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slipper Orchid - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slipper Orchid - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slipper Orchid - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Looking around the reintroduction area, it was fascinating to spot the small seedlings, all protected from slug damage by rings and plastic bottles and hopefully ensuring the continuation of the population for years to come. 
Lady's Slipper Orchid seedlings - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
The small seedlings in their protective bottles
Lady's Slipper Orchid seedlings - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Sadly though, as with all British wildflowers, one of the greatest threats continues to be from humans, and in a damning act of vandalism echoing the destructive practices of Victorian collectors over a hundred years ago, one of the largest Lady’s Slippers had been dug up during the winter, leaving just an empty and telling hole in its place.
Stolen Lady's Slipper - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Stolen Lady's Slipper - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Digging up wild specimens is a completely thoughtless and pointless of act of vandalism – orchids rarely survive after being dug up due to their specialised needs. 
Whilst some may see the Gait Barrows Lady’s Slippers as ‘plastic’ or ‘comical’, instead they should be regarded as a conservation success story and a reflection of a positive shift in attitude to how we value our British wildflowers. Allowing the public to view the plants is also a fantastic touch – opening up what is unarguably a magical part of our British flora to educate and inspire both the older and younger generation alike for years to come. 
Lady's Slipper Orchid - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slipper Orchids - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slipper Orchids - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slipper Orchids - Gait Barrows, Cumbria

Getting to Gait Barrows:

There is a permit holders car park off the small lane south of Coldwell Lane – the post code is LA7 7LF. The Lady’s Slippers are all roped off for protection, but you can still approach the plants closely for photographs and to admire. 
Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slippers - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slipper Orchids - Gait Barrows, Cumbria
Lady's Slipper Orchids - Gait Barrows, Cumbria

5 comments:

  1. Great photos and post, I've had a Permit for Gait Barrows for some weeks but haven't managed to get there yet, do you know how long the lso continue to flower? cheers,Phil

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    1. Thanks Phil! I think you'll have had it for this year with the Lady's Slippers - they tend to flower at the end of May/beginning of June which is when these were taken :) Best to take a trip up next spring!

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  2. Thanks a lot Steff, I'll probably still take a trip there as it looks rather fabulous! Excellent blog btw, I've linked to it on mine http://robymilling.blogspot.co.uk/, cheers Phil

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    Replies
    1. Yes it's a great place - plus Dark-red Helleborines should be flowering there now! Awh thank you, I have linked yours too!

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