County Council secures Natural England conservation funding to save UK’s rarest orchids

Hampshire County Council has secured a £98,000 funding boost to help rare helleborine orchids to thrive. The conservation project aims to create protected habitats for the endangered plants at sites in East Hampshire

Sep 15 2023

The County Council’s Cabinet Lead for Countryside, Councillor Russell Oppenheimer said: “It is fantastic news that our plans to preserve rare orchids on County Council sites have been backed by Natural England. The chalkland areas of the East Hampshire Hangers and nearby woodlands already provide a home to some of the UK’s scarcest helleborine orchids, but their numbers have been in decline. This project will put in place measures to protect these fragile locations and nurture the threatened helleborine orchid back from the brink of extinction. Conservation work such as this is a key priority for the County Council enabling us to preserve our precious natural landscapes for wildlife, develop resilience to climate change, and ensure that the delicate ecosystems can spread and survive.”

The nature recovery project aims to increase numbers of both red and long-leaved helleborines. The red helleborine is considered one of the UK’s most threatened orchid species with an overall population of fewer than 20 plants recorded each year. The long-leaved helleborine is thought to survive at only 25 sites in England. The decline of the species in recent decades is linked to a range of factors including woodland loss, trampling by humans and deer, and grazing by molluscs. Plans to reverse the loss of the orchids include vegetation clearance to provide more space, light and air for the plants to grow; protection for adult plants; ‘artificial’ hand pollination; and the introduction of measures to help seeds to germinate. The aim also is to involve a group of volunteers to assist with the project. The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust will take part in the project focusing on orchid preservation at a nature reserve east of West Meon.  

In June, the County Council was appointed by the Government to prepare a ‘Local Nature Recovery Strategy’ for Hampshire, including the areas of Portsmouth and Southampton. The aim is to work with organisations and communities to improve the environment, protect wildlife, and combat climate change, now and in the future.