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Rare plant in Ancaster is under threat

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Man Orchid at Ancaster
Man Orchid at Ancaster

The village of Ancaster has the unique distinction of being home to not just one of the rarest flowers in the UK, but to two rare and exotic plant species.

Much has been written previously about the extremely rare Tall Thrift, a species which cannot be found anywhere else in the country apart from Ancaster cemetery and the nearby Moor Closes nature reserve.

But less has been said about the Man Orchid, not quite so rare but still a very scarce species of flower, which can be found on the grass verge beside the A6403 at Ancaster.

It has actually been the best ever year for the Man Orchid on this site, with around 50 spikes seen, compared to the usual 20-30.

However, this little haven of tranquility for the Man Orchid is being put under threat by motorists driving on to the grass verge and crushing the plants, which has sparked concern among conservationists.

Mark Schofield, of the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, said: “Man Orchid is nationally scarce and has decreased dramatically since the late 19th century due to the ploughing of ancient hay meadows. Most East Anglian populations were extinct by 1930 and there are only two places in Lincolnshire where this plant now grows. The site near Ancaster is the most northerly site for Man Orchid.”

But he admitted that the actions of some motorists were putting the plant at risk.

Mark added: “This location had already suffered damage in early May when vehicle tracks were noticed along the verge.

“Fortunately, this was before most flower spikes had begun to emerge. But more recently, this Bank Holiday weekend, on the same day we received news of the highest flower spike count recorded so far at this site, we later received a report that fresh vehicle tracks had again been spotted, which on this occasion had crushed orchids in their prime preventing them from producing the seed vital to their long-term survival.”

It is not yet known who is responsible but police are investigating and Natural England have been informed.

“The trust will be working with Natural England and rural crime officers to improve the protection of this location in the future,” said Mark. “We have to hope that this year’s higher abundance of flowering orchids will help the population cope with the knock it has taken.

“Incidents such as these highlight just how vulnerable some of our rarest wildflowers are. Since many have been ploughed up on the other side of our hedgerows, road verges are often their final refuge.

“Although a roadside existence is precarious, if verges are well managed, they hold the potential to act as corridors for wildlife – connecting nature reserves and other green spaces.”

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