Preparations for the orchids began at the end of September last year. After local farmer Adam Twine had kindly topped the west meadow, a group of Friends of Tuckmill (FoT) volunteers raked the arisings that lay on the approximate area where the flowers were known to grow. On 19th March a 1.5 metre wide cut was put in from the top path down to the fence in preparation for a viewing platform and study area, the idea being to monitor some of the orchids from the time they appear as rosettes to the time they wither and die. The cut was trimmed again on 22 April, just before the rosettes were likely to appear.
The first rosettes were recorded on 5 May and the first flower to emerge that could enable identification of the species appeared on 19 May. It was a Southern Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza praetermissa). In the study area the rosettes continued to appear and, apart from two, all the leaves were clear of spots or any markings. Of the two, one bore marks that were dashes rather than dots and were very faint. The other just had the odd faint blemish. It suggested that something spotted, other than Southern Marsh, had influenced the patch probably a long time ago.
By 26 May there were 24 orchids in flower on the west and east meadows, although there were more in the taller vegetation that were difficult to access. However, using a drone enabled two more patches to be located. By the end of May there were treble that number. All the orchids were of the species Southern Marsh and none had marks on the leafs at all. There were numerous plants that had a single flower growing normally and next to them one or two that produces leafs but no flowers. Some of those have been recorded accurately to ascertain if they produce flowers including the two that had slightly marked leafs.
A survey on 9 June revealed that there are three patches of orchids in the west meadow and one patch in the east meadow. The survey also revealed that some of the early flower heads were going over to produce seed pods from the bottom upwards. This provided the useful information that the flowers are in bloom for 15-20 days.
The survey is still ongoing with the intention to study the orchids to the point where the seed pods ripen, open and release. From this survey FoT will have very useful information as to timing and accurate location. The orchids of Tuckmill Meadows do have an advantage with timing in that they are located in spring water and therefore not so reliant on the weather conditions. They also seem to be unique in that every plant surveyed is of the species Southern Marsh and does not have the dilution of hybridisation. Opinion among the orchid experts suggest that such a site is rapidly becoming a rarity. This is also remarkable when, just two fields away to the west, there are orchids growing with densely spotted leafs. Neil B Maw
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