Propagation for Conservation

Sterile laboratory conditions at the Kew are necessary to extract the seeds from the rare Lady-slipper Orchid

Germination of the seeds takes place under sheets of black plastic

Developed seedlings are transferred to a select range of sites in former locations where the species flourished

Arguably Britain’s most beautiful and rarest wildflower

Established plants often developed twin blooms

British Wildlife Photography Awards International Year of Biodiversity 2010 Winning Image

This was the first time I had entered the British Wildlife Photography Awards (BWPA) and as you can imagine I am very pleased to have submitted the overall Winning image in the International Year of Biodiversity 2010 category.

Male Sand Lizard - Southern Race

International Year of Biodiversity Award 2010 - Winner

An expanse of heathland near Christchurch, Dorset is where I was pre-occupied photographing oblong-leaved sundews, when I noticed movement close by. Thinking or rather hoping it was an impressive fen raft spider I was equally excited and no less surprised as a small male sand lizard resplendent in its emerald-green breeding colours emerged through the polytrichum moss. I managed to secure 2 frames before it disappeared with lighting speed, a truly memorable occasion as I had never photographed or seen a southern race sand lizard before or since. Good to see the image appear and discussed at length on BBC – The One Show and Sky News.

Lady’-Slipper Orchid – Northern England

International Year of Biodiversity Award 2010 – Highly Commended

As part of a conservation project involving Natural England and Kew Gardens I was granted special permission to photograph at a secret location a Lady’s-Slipper Orchid, Britain’s rarest and arguably most beautiful flowering plant. Using a 300mm f/4 IS lens I was able to separate the intricate flower head from the confusing background and backlit my subject as the last rays of sunlight filtered through the sepals and characteristic yellow slipper.

Mountain Hare – Derbyshire

Portrait Category – Portfolio

In a remote upland region of the Peak District, close to home, I had worked for several weeks with a group of Mountain Hare’s in nothing short of polar conditions. Blizzards, white outs, temperatures often reaching -20c and lower on occasions and winds up to 40mph, tested my stamina and resolve though the opportunities that eventually presented themselves were without doubt truly outstanding. On one occasion I had all but given up on locating a mountain hare when out of the corner of my eye I spotted a hare in its form motionless. I managed to slide on my stomach for 20 metres, across snow a metre or more deep, eventually closing in to within 2 metres of the hare and shot over 60 images over a 40 minute period using a 300mm f/4 IS lens and 12mm extension tube, handheld.

International Year of Biodiversity 2010 Category

In the year when the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity is highlighting the unprecedented global loss of species, the British Wildlife Photography Awards introduced a new category dedicated to British biodiversity. Sponsored by Natural England, this category focused its attention on our native species fighting for survival.

British Wildlife Photography Awards - The Hooper Galley, London

A great evening I’m sure was had by all and the award ceremony was held at The Hooper Galley, Farringdon, London on Wednesday, 13th October 2010. Presenting the awards was Naturalist & Broadcaster, Nick Baker whose enthusiasm and modesty was clear for all to see. I found it a great way of putting a face to some of the photographers and talking “shop” and meeting old friends and colleagues including Kitty & Ken Clarke, Dr. Mark Avery (RSPB), Tim Harris (Sales & Marketing Manager – Nature Picture Library) and the person who little does she know it has built my confidence up, Helen Gilks (Managing Director – Nature Picture Library). The book - British Wildlife Photography Awards – Collection 1 is now on sale and is a beautiful presented publication.

BWPA - Hoopers Gallery Awards Presentation

Receiving my BWPA - International Year of Biodiversity 2010 - Winner award from Paul Chrisenden (Chairman of Natural England) – Nick Baker (Naturalist & Broadcaster) and Richard Benyon (Conservative Party MP)

Education is an important key

Robert Pedley-Jones – Natural England Head Warden at Gait Barrows NNR informing visitors about the ecology of the Lady-Slipper Orchid

Education is an important key

Natural England’s magnificent national nature reserve at Gait Barrows opened it’s doors so to speak to some 500 non-permit holding visitors this weekend when they celebrated Britain’s rarest and arguably our most impressive wildflower the Lady’s-Slipper Orchid – Cypripedium calceolus. Visitors were greeted by the Natural England team where an educational display and activities were the order of the day. Head Warden, Robert Pedley-Jones held audience to countless visitors all eager to see the blooms and field a Q&A session.

Lady’s-Slipper Orchid visitors weekend notice board

Twin-Flowering Lady’s-Slipper Orchid

Flagship Restoration Project for the Species Recovery Project

As Britain’s rarest flowering plant and fully protected by law Cypripedium calceolus the Species Recovery Project aims to protect the surviving English plants and successfully propagate enough new plants to re-introduce the species back into the wild.

Propagation at Kew Gardens

Natural England and a number of wildlife trusts have worked very closely with Kew Gardens who have an extensive understanding of how to restore the plant successfully back to the wild. Individual plants of known English origin provide an important source of genetic variety, and their pollen is being used to cross-pollinate with the surviving wild plants to produce seeds with increased genetic vigour and variability. Seeds are propagated by specialists at Kew Gardens to produce small orchid plantlets grown on by a select band of growers, until they are large enough to be re-introduced to the wild.

A mandatory symbiotic relationship

In common with all orchid species in Europe, Lady’s-slipper Orchid has a special relationship with mycorrhizal fungi which is a mandatory requirement for the growth of young shoots. Mycorrhizal fungi populates the immediate area next to the plant’s roots and form very thin filaments, adding to the length and efficiency of a plant’s roots, an essential growth development factor in the success of re-introducing Lady’s-Slipper Orchid back into the wild. In fact all orchids are mycoheterotrophic at some stage during their lifetime and . Orchid mycorrhiza are critically important during orchid germination, a Lady’s-slipper Orchid may produce in excess of 200,000 plus dust like seeds which have virtually no energy reserves and get carbon from the fungal symbiont.

Silverdale Lady’s-Slipper Orchid is believed to be Austrian origin.

The Re-introduction Programme

There are many sites throughout Northern England where Lady’s-Slipper Orchids are growing healthily in the wild, and the final proof of the success for the programme will be the natural propagation of orchid plants.

Conservation and the public

In years gone by, rare plants were made unavailable for the public to peruse, the shift in emphasis is now to allow such rarities to be photographed and enjoyed by supervised visits to such highly protected sites. No longer do we want to hear about rare plants being stolen to order or damaged maliciously, it is encouraged that a photograph of the blooms will discourage those with other agendas from such outrageous behaviour.

The little shoe of Venus

Britain’s rarest wildflower ?

With no similar native species, the Lady’s-Slipper Orchid – Cypripedium calceolus (meaning: the little shoe of Venus) is arguably our most impressive wildflower and an extremely rare species, with only one native specimen known to grow in a limestone dale in Yorkshire. Often described as being Britain’s rarest wildflower though this statement is incorrect. In fact it is not even our rarest orchid that honour belongs to the Ghost Orchid – Epigogium aphyllum, last observed in 1986 a single specimen, thought be extinct until a single specimen was seen in 2009.

A planted specimen of Cypripedium calceolus in Lancashire is believed to have derived from Austrian stock is available for public viewing. Recent research is not been able to conclude whether the specimen is in fact from continental Europe and could well have been taken from an English colony in the wild. Scientists at Kew have stated that each both specimens are indistinguishable even from DNA analysis.

The Sainsbury Orchid Project at Kew

Back in 1983 Kew set-up a project to research methods of propagating various orchid species from seed. The seeds themselves resemble dust-like particles, though locating the mandatory symbiont fungus for the development of seedlings was a biological problem scientists managed to synthetically reproduce. Over the years scientists at Kew have perfected a technique for propagation and many of plants have now been planted back in the wild in a project co-ordinated by Natural England and the Wildlife Trusts of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria.

Please note that all images taken are of specimens planted by Natural England and in photographing white background images a simple white card positioned some 2 metres behind each specimen of Cypripedium calceolus to not only avoid disturbance of the plant itself but the all important micro-fauna in the vicinity of each specimen.


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