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28 October 2014
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   Inside Out - South: Monday January 10, 2004
Belgarum Bee Orchid
Their very form is a work of art

There is little doubt that the superstars of Britain's Flora are the orchids. And in the South, we are blessed with them in profusion.

Chris Packham leads us on the trail.

The complex and colourful blooms of orchids are matched only by their extraordinary life cycles and very particular requirements.

The group has been top of the plant pops ever since the Victorian naturalists obsessed with them and made huge collections of both our native and many exotic species.

Their hobby no doubt denuded many of our more glamorous blooms but the unsympathetic industrialisation of our farmland over the last fifty years has been the main factor to foist rarity upon many orchid species, a badge which has perversely increased their appeal.

Orchid Mecca

Marsh Orchid
The colours are as delicate as their petals

We are very fortunate that in the South we have the richest part of the UK's orchid list and almost all the species are accessible or with a little planning and prearranged permissions you can even kneel before national rarities and marvel at their beauty.

Now I am an 'ampshire-mush by birth so I have a few favourite local spots to while away a summer morning waving my camera lenses at lovely things in the grass...

  1. Chappetts Copse (25 ha). From A32 in West Meon turn to East Meon. After half a mile turn south into Coombs Lane. Reserve on left. Park in, but without blocking, the Forestry Commission entrance.

    It's great! A lovely beech Woodland which has White Helleborine, Birds Nest and Fly orchids, but is the national stronghold of the rare Narrow-leaved Helleborine.

    Go on a Sunday in season (May/June) and meet the warden and volunteers who will point you in the right direction.

  2. Noar Hill (12.5 ha) One mile south of Selborne leave village on B3006, take first right towards Newton Valence, up hill, then first left down 'dead end' road. Park on roadside and walk up track to reserve entrance.

    This tiny scrap of land in a largely ruined landscape is one of the best examples of chalk grassland left in Britain and although not picturesque, in total its flora is quite simply fabulous.

    There are eleven species of orchid which include Bee and Frog and a nationally important colony of the peculiar Musk orchid.

    In early June it is close to heaven and loaded with fabulous
    orchids, in some spots you can't walk lest you trample some of the valuable flower spikes!

    Oh yes, there are no less than 35, yes 35 breeding butterfly
    species. Wow! Both Noar Hill and Chappetts Copse are Hampshire Wildlife Trust Reserves.

  3. Martin Down N.N.R. (249 ha) Access on the Salisbury -Blandford Road or from Martin Village. My ashes will be scattered on this wonderful spread of old English grassland.

    It is, for me, the best bit of Britain. Bee, frog, masses of Pyramidal and the rare and elusive Burnt Orchid are the highlights here but it will be difficult to concentrate given the birds and butterflies and the outstanding scenery!

    Again early June is peak season but a succession of visits would be necessary to clean up!

And elsewhere...

Outside of Hampshire, Dorset has Fontmell Down (Dorset Wildlife Trust) and Whitenothe Undercliffe (National Trust), Wiltshire, Lavington Hill, Pewsey Downs and Wylye Down (English Nature).

Common Spotted Orchid
It takes a great deal of care to walk amongst wild orchids

Sussex highlights include Cuckmere Haven (East Sussex County Council) and Ditchling Beacon (Sussex Wildlife Trust).

Kent is loaded with brilliant Orchid sites including the amazing Yockletts Bank with its Lady orchids et al. (Kent WildlifeTrust), Wye and Crundale Downs (English Nature) and for a great treat go to Sandwich Golf Course to see the bizarre Lizard orchid.

Check websites of the above conservation bodies for details of location and access.

And remember that cheesy old moniker…. Take only photographs, leave only footprints.

See also ...

Inside Out: South
The world of the giant veg
Cricket and crickets
Crop circles

On the rest of Inside Out
Garden treasures
Kitchen garden

Orchid experts share their secrets
BBC Gardening - Orchids
BBC Gardeners' Question Time
BBC Gardeners' Corner

On the rest of the web
Orchid Society
Royal Horticultural Society

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Richard Taylor
I really enjoyed the small but informative and excellently presented show by Chris Packham as they usually are.I remember Chris on a photographic programme some years back.Watching the show gave me the incentive of making another.Full marks to Rosemary Webb on her enthusiasm and skill in finding the beautiful wild orchids we have in the south but,i must add that we need to look after them as they are disappearing at an alarming rate.Thanks again for brightening my day.

John burgess
I was very interested in your programme especiall the orchids. I have been a keen photographer for many years and have just started out in the world of flower photography. These orchids are beatiful & I will endeavour to try this year to capture some of their beauty. Many thanks for such an informative programme. By the way who was the lady photographer I would love to meet & see some of her work

John fletcher
Brilliant. I have been interested in wild orchids most of my life (age 14 - 62) However, being at sea for many years (Royal Navy) has not given me many opportunities. I am now beginning to catch-up. More could have been said about illegal picking/digging up Regards John

Alan Larkman
A minor gem of a programme. Quite small in scale, but beautifully filmed and edited. Chris Packham manages to be knowledgeable but not patronising, enthusiastic but not gushing, and amusing without being silly. This is not a common combination - more of the same, please!

paul johnson
although my region is the south east i was very interested in the growth of the various orchids, i live on chalk downland and i am blessed in owning a small piece of it, i do not spray or artifically feed my field and over the last three years i have seen a gradual increase in wild flowers growing in amongst the grass, i hope soon to see my first wild orchid.

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