Rare orchid causing a buzz

Rachel McNabb


Rachel McNabb

A wildflower meadow in Ballymena is causing a buzz following the discovery of a rare species of orchid.

Over 20 Irish Lady's Tresses orchids have taken root in a meadow at Cambridge House Grammar School and the significant find has even attracted national interest.

The school agreed to manage a large area of its grounds as a wildflower meadow as part of an initiative aimed at turning schools into pollinator friendly habitats.

Cambridge House is one of around 32 schools across Northern Ireland which participated in the Polli:Nation campaign delivered by Learning through Landscape.

And after just two years the meadow has become home to over 30 species of wildflowers including the orchids.

The plants were found during a survey of the meadow last week by Donna Rainey and Rachael Conway.

The small wild orchid has creamy-white flowers and is one of the rarest members of the orchid family in Europe.

Rachael Conway said the find was “significant”.

She explained: “There are only a handful of sites in Northern Ireland where these orchids can be found so to discover 20 in this meadow is incredible.”

She continued: “All the school has done is stopped mowing an area of ground. It requires a cut and lift once a year in September where the meadow is mowed and the cuttings are lifted which prevents the grass from taking over. The school has achieved so much by doing less and spending no money.

“The principal, Mrs Lutton has been very supportive of the initiative and the groundsmen have ensured the meadow is looked after in the proper way.”

Rachael said the meadow has been such a success that the school has agreed to extend its size.

Rachel added: “These flowers have been lying dormont in the soil for years waiting for an opportunity. We now have over 20 of these rare flowers after just two years of changing the mowing regime.”

Other wildflowers found in the meadow include Self-Heal and Birds Foot Trefoil.

Rachael continued: “We would love to see Ballymena schools become a showcase for meadow creation.

“Council has planted quite a lot of wildflowers around the town and it would be great to see less mowing and more and more of these wonderful meadows.”

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