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Rare orchid takes root at sewage works

A protected species of orchid has made a Dorset sewage treatment site its home. Ecologists at Wessex Water discovered an early spider orchid growing on a grass roof at Swanage sewage treatment works.

Staff changed their usual mowing process on the roof and in doing so found the early spider orchid - a rare species.

Senior conservation ecologist Ellen McDouall explained that the limestone coastal cliffs around Swanage were one of only three UK strongholds for the species, the others being Kent and Suffolk. She said: “This roof has only existed for 10 years and the orchids can take that long to flower. We don’t know how they got on the roof – whether seed was in the soil or blown in from nearby.

“Thankfully the roof of the sewage treatment works is under no particular operational pressure so we are hopeful we will be able to actively manage the land for the benefit of the plant.”

The plant, which is so rare that it is protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, cannot be uprooted, cut, sold or destroyed – doing so is illegal.

Dorset Wildlife Trust said: "This is a lovely find as the early spider orchid is nationally scarce, with around 75% of the population being found in Purbeck, and the rest along the south coast to Kent and Suffolk. They are so special to Dorset, that Dorset Wildlife Trust use it as part of our logo."

Ellen added: “It’s very important that we constantly assess the potential impact of our operations upon wildlife and this is a key component of our ongoing biodiversity action plan.”

Source: Wessex Water
Photo: Wessex Water

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