Friday, 28 June 2013

Counting orchids in an accidental meadow

by Richard Neale

Solar panels and orchids soak up the sun together at Plas Newydd
This morning, I joined a group of volunteers counting orchids in a wildflower meadow at Plas Newydd, Ynys Môn. 

We were there for two reasons.  The first reason is pretty obvious: to find out how many common spotted orchids, northern marsh orchids and rarer greater butterfly orchids grow in the field.  The second was that we were volunteer guinea pigs, helping Rachel Dolan, the Trust’s new nature conservation intern on Anglesey, to find out how best to enable visitors to get closer to nature and help with our ecological monitoring.
Our expert guides: Helen and Rachel
The reason why this meadow has survived, when 95% of the UK’s other meadows have disappeared, is an accident of history.  As agricultural improvements were happening all around, this particular field was kept for ball games by the nearby Conway outdoor pursuits centre.  Unbeknown to generations of youngsters from Cheshire, the field, which required summer mowing and winter grazing, became a perfect habitat for wildflowers, including three species of orchid. 

When the centre gave up the field four years ago and mowing was delayed until late summer, our gardeners watched in amazement at it turned into a colourful carpet of pale purple orchids.

Not folk dancing, but this is us ready to count a 3 metre swathe across the meadow
By a happy and somehow appropriate coincidence, the field has recently also become the location for one of the Trust’s solar energy arrays, producing electricity from sunlight; helping to reduce our fuel bills and atmospheric carbon emissions.

All being well, next year’s visitors to the Marquis of Anglesey’s ancestral home will be able to offer an hour or so of their time to help Rachel with this worthwhile and pleasantly relaxing orchid-counting task.

Oh, I almost forgot to say, after a bit of number-crunching back in the office, Rachel informs me that there are over 150,000 orchids in this meadow.

The question now is: are we managing the meadow the right way to retain and enhance its wildlife value?

Why not come to help us by giving up a bit of your time to do some orchid counting next year?

Northern marsh and common spotted orchids (or hybrids thereof)

Greater butterfly orchid


  1. Richard, nice post. It's great for us to see the projects we are doing in renewables blended with your conservation work - both playing their part in preserving our future. Keep up the good work!

    Carl Benfield

    1. Thanks, Carl. There's something beautifully appropriate in the combination mentioned in this piece. Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. I have no words for this great post such a awe-some information.Free Solar Panels

    1. Thanks Malik. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. The orchids are in bloom again this year and the meadow looks fantastic at the moment.