Archive by Author | kcastillo50

Visiteering with Orchid Observers at the Natural History Museum

We’ve already had a fantastic response from the amateur naturalist and professional botanical community, alongside nature loving citizen scientists, who went out all over the country to photograph orchids flowering in 2015, and submit their images and records to the project – thank you. Many of you have also been engaged in the online identification of species and tagging flowering stages in the uploaded images, as well as transcribing data from our extensive Museum herbarium collection, but with around10,000 historical orchid specimens in our collection there is still a lot of useful data to extract.

In October, to help us speed up our goal to annotate all the specimen data for the Orchid Observers research, we invited anyone interested in volunteering a day of their time to work alongside a scientist from the Orchid Observers research team here in the Museum to help with this task!

visiteer logo

Visiteering is a new strand to the volunteer offer at the Natural History Museum which invites small groups of volunteers into the Museum for a day to for a genuine collections-based experience and a chance to support the Museum’s work. Visiteers are set a challenge relating to the collections and work along museum scientists.

We piloted the first ever Visiteer day in October with the Orchid Observers project and challenged each visiteer to verify or transcribe data for 50 or more museum orchid specimens  on the Orchid Observers website.

Since October we have offered 7 Visiteering days for up to 10 people. Over 300 people registered their interest to get involved and a total of 56 volunteers have taken part in checking and transcribing data for our orchid specimens; collectively they succeeded in annotating 3,424 specimens!


Liberating the data: some examples of our historical orchid specimen sheets which our visiteer groups helped to annotate


Some highlights from Visiteering with Orchid Observers:

  • On a scale of 1-10, participants were either likely (8) to extremely likely (9-10) to continue verifying/transcribing from home.
  • All participants understood the value of their contribution and the ambitions of Orchid observers.
  • Practical skills gained ranged from: transcribing herbarium sheets, to deciphering handwriting and investigation skills, cross referencing and information searches.
  • New knowledge gained: identifying UK wild orchid species and their Latin names, knowledge of UK places, Vice counties and geography, impact of climate change on UK orchid species, plant and specimen preparation, data sorting

Feedback from visiteers: What did you most enjoy about your visiteer day?

‘I found it very satisfying to complete a transcription’ 

‘…the feeling that my time has been used for a worthwhile cause’


 ‘I’ve learned about the way scientific data is collected and collated. Visiting the NHM behind the scenes fulfils a lifelong dream…’

‘…feeling we were part of the whole scientific process…’


‘Joyful organizers, loads of background information, feeling useful J


‘..meeting and spending the day with awesome people!’



Orchid Observers visiteers

Some of our many lovely visiteers with Orchid Observers

A giant THANK YOU to all our visiteers who came into the Natural History Museum to offer their time to the Orchid Observers project, and for your valuable and lasting contribution to the Museum and our research.

And a special big thank you to Ali Thomas, Volunteer Manager extraordinaire! And to all the Museum teams who made Visiteering possible.





Wild Orchids Gallery

A massive THANK YOU to everyone who has contributed their photographs and records to the project throughout the spring and summer! We’ve selected just some of over 2,250 amazing photographs of our native orchids which have been contributed by our participants – watch the slide show here:

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And you’ve still got time to upload any 2015 field records and photographs – we need these by mid-October for inclusion in our analysis. Don’t forget to keep identifying species and flowering stage on the Identify page, and also to try your hand at verifying and transcribing our museum specimen labels on the Transcribe page.

Thanks again!

September update

As we near the end of the orchid flowering season 2015 there are still Spiranthes spiralis to be found flowering, probably up until late September, so please keep looking out for them and uploading your records. Here is one of these little beauties I found and photographed in Essex at the weekend!

Autumn Lady’s-tresses (Spiranthes spiralis) Photo: Kath Castillo

Autumn Lady’s-tresses (Spiranthes spiralis)
Photo: Kath Castillo

Almost 1800 field records have been uploaded to the website from across the UK – a truly wonderful effort, so a big thank you to all who have participated! Many of these are new records and locations for some species which we are very excited about. We aim to start analysing the data you have collected soon, so if you have any orchid photos you have not yet uploaded please could we ask you to submit these by the beginning of October so we can include all of these valuable records in our analyses. If you’ve already submitted all your photographs, and if you’ve identified all of the uploaded field photos, then please click on the ‘transcribe’ tab and help us to extract data on flowering times from our beautiful Museum specimens, like these below.


Coming soon: we’ve been selecting some of your best field photos from the season and will be posting them here in our next blog!

Orchid Observers update and species to look out for in August

Orchid Observers has recently been mentioned in the news – click on the links below to read more:

The Guardian, 21 July

BBC News, 26 July

The Telegraph, 28 July

The Orchid Observers team would once again like to thank all our participants who have been out photographing orchids and collecting records from all over the country – with 1655 records submitted so far this is a fantastic field effort! Of these records, an assessment by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) shows that more than 200 of these sites are new locations for some species. Of particular interest are several previously unknown locations for green-winged orchid (Anacamptis morio) which is listed as ‘near threatened’, and white helleborine (Cephalanthera damasonium) which is considered to be ‘vulnerable’ to extinction in the UK.

As well as submitting your orchid locations and images, more and more of you are also helping us extract information from the Museum’s historic orchid collection. So far, for both the online transcriptions and the identification of orchids photographed this season, our 927 registered participants have clocked up almost 25,000 classifications! This is great news – and we will continue to need your help transcribing the herbarium specimen label data and tagging flowering stages even after the orchid field season is over for this year. For now though, some of our species are still flowering or yet to flower! Here are a couple of species we’d like you to look out in the field for this month:

If you are up in northern England and in north-east parts of Scotland and likely to be visiting and walking in woodland, particularly pine woods, then look out under the pine trees on the forest floor for small spikes of creamy white flowers which are very hairy! Take a look at the leaves; if the veins are distinctively net-shaped (rather than parallel as in most UK orchids) then you may well have found Creeping lady’s-tresses (Goodyera repens). Please take a photograph and record the location and date and upload your data to the Orchid Observers website.

Creeping lady’s-tresses at Eden Valley, Cumbria. Photo: Mike Waller

A similar looking species, but in another genus altogether, is Autumn lady’s-tresses (Spiranthes spiralis) which is found in southern England, most commonly by the coast. This small orchid has tiny white flowers arranged in a single spiral around the stem resembling braided hair, hence the common name. An interesting fact is the leaves develop in autumn and photosynthesise throughout the winter but wither before flowering – this is an adaptation to hot dry climates. Germination to flowering takes 14 years. This is a Mediterranean species that only grows on calcareous grassland with very short turf. Look out for it in late August and into September on chalk downs, fixed dunes, cliff tops and even lawns and old grass tennis courts!

Autumn lady’s-tresses at Eggardon Hill in Dorset. Photo: Chris Raper

Autumn lady’s-tresses at Eggardon Hill in Dorset. Photo: Chris Raper

For help identifying these species, and the 27 others in our study, don’t forget to email us at with your postal address if you would like us to send you a free copy of our Orchid Observers Identification Guide

Get your free Orchid Observers ID Guide!

In addition to the downloadable PDF version on this website, we now have beautiful printed copies of our 34 page Orchid Observers Identification Guide, illustrated with photographs of all 29 wild orchids in our study, species distribution maps and details on flowering times.

Please email with your full postal address and we will send you a free copy!


Orchid Observers – species to look out for in July


If you are up in the far north west of Scotland and parts of northern England (or down in the New Forest) in July to early August, keep a look out for the smallest of the UK orchids, the bog orchid (Hammarbya paludosa), which is just 4-8cm tall and has tiny greenish flowers which are twisted through 360 degrees rather than the typical 180 degrees for most of our orchids, meaning they are upside down. The bog orchid, as the name suggests, is found in acid peat bogs, often growing among mosses.

If you are headed for southern England in July, a similar orchid to the bog orchid in size and colour is the musk orchid (Herminium monorchis) but with bell-like flowers, and grows in a very different habitat; it occurs only on short grassland on chalk or limestone soils. Look out for it, photograph it if you find it, but take care not to step on it – this orchid is classified as vulnerable.

Bog orchid Mike Waller.MW (4) Herminium monorchis Noar.Fred Rumsey


The bog orchid (top) and the musk orchid (below). These hard-to-find orchids have very local distributions.

You can also still find the bee orchid in flower until late July. The bee orchid is a Mediterranean species of open calcareous grassland and disturbed ground and can be found throughout England, but is scare in Cornwall and north Devon. One petal is highly modified to look like a bee with large pink sepals behind. Pollination is carried out by a process called pseudo-copulation whereby the orchid mimics the sight and smell of a female bee. This attracts male bees who try to mate with the flower and in the process dislodge the pollen which attaches to him and is then carried to the next flower. Unfortunately, the necessary bee species is not present in the UK and so they are always self-pollinated here. We believe this species is also spreading north as our climate becomes warmer.

Ophrys apifera 9-6-15 KCastillo

The bee orchid (Ophrys apifera) – one of the most charismatic and much-loved of our native wild orchid species.

See our UK Orchid Identification Guide for all 29 species in our study.

Thanks for your participation in Orchid Observers!

What have the Orchid Observers team been up to?

It’s been a busy time for Orchid Observers! The project got off to a great start when the website went live on the Zooniverse platform on 23 April and the very first of the season’s field records was uploaded on day one! A week in, and we recorded almost 300 people participating in the online activities and an increasing number of people uploading images from the field.

The Orchid Observers team, from left to right: Jade Lauren Cawthray, Jim O’Donnell (Zooniverse web developer) Lucy Robinson, Mark Spencer, John Tweddle, Kath Castillo, Chris Raper and Fred Rumsey

The Orchid Observers team, from left to right: Jade Lauren Cawthray, Jim O’Donnell (Zooniverse web developer) Lucy Robinson, Mark Spencer, John Tweddle, Kath Castillo, Chris Raper and Fred Rumsey

At the time of writing this blog we now have over 700 registered users on the website who have enthusiastically completed 17,589 classifications, by verifying and transcribing data for our historical specimens and identifying species and flowering stages for 1507 photographic records submitted by participants so far. The field records collected span the country, from Cornwall to Perth in Scotland, and from Pembrokeshire across to Norfolk. So far, for early-purple orchid (Orchis mascula) and green-winged orchid (Anacamptis morio) approximately 9% of the records are from new/unknown sites (as measured by 2 km square/tetrad); this is valuable information, particularly for green-winged orchid which is considered at risk of extinction in the UK.


Whilst we have not as yet been able to fully compare the Orchid Observers phenology data with our museum records (the relevant, verified, 2015 UK weather data has not been released) we have already been able to see that the median date of this year’s flowering of two species (early-purple and green-winged) is at least 10 days earlier than the museum data (which mainly covers 1830 to 1970). These are early figures only, and the full data set will be analysed later this year.

A herbarium sheet of green-winged orchid (Anacamptis morio); one of around 10,000 historical specimens available online for data verification or transcription

A herbarium sheet of green-winged orchid; one of around 10,000 historical specimens available online for data verification or transcription

We are immensely grateful for the time and good will of all our participants – without this effort we would not have been able to collect these data. And we’ve still got the rest of the summer to collect more data for all our 29 species in the survey!

As well as showcasing the project at public events throughout May and June, some of us in the team have also managed to get out to various sites to record and photograph orchids ourselves to add to the fantastic field photo effort of our many participants!  We’ve visited sites across the Southeast, and further afield in Dorset, Somerset, Wales and Cumbria


Mark recording man orchids in Kent

Mark recording man orchids in Kent

Kath photographing green-winged orchids (Anacamptis morio) in Dorset

Kath photographing green-winged orchids in Dorset

Lucy, Jade and Mike collecting photographic records for common spotted-orchid in Surrey.

Lucy, Jade and Mike collecting photographic records for common spotted-orchid in Surrey

The coralroot orchid photographed by Mike Waller in Cumbria

The coralroot orchid photographed by Mike Waller in Cumbria

A rare green form of the fly orchid photographed in Hampshire by Fred Rumsey

A rare green form of the fly orchid photographed in Hampshire by Fred Rumsey

Orchid Observers on film

Written by Kath Castillo

We’ve been busy filming some promotional videos about the Orchid Observers project – take a look!

Mark Spencer and I travelled to Kent early one morning to meet BBC reporter Charlie Rose to film a piece on the project for South East News Today. We went to Darland Banks, south-facing chalk grassland slopes which were abundant with Orchis anthropophora, the Man orchid.

Man Orchid_Darland_19_05_15KCastillo

The Man orchid, Orchis anthropophora, at Darland Banks.

You can see the BBC news film here

I also organised with the Museum’s Broadcast Unit team to film a short piece to explain the research behind the project. So, mid-May saw myself, together with film crew Emma Davis and Hannah Wise, setting off early one morning with two carloads of film equipment, a group of Museum volunteers and lead researcher on the project Mark Spencer, to Oxfordshire for a day of orchids filming at a couple of the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust’s (BBOWT) finest nature reserves. We are very grateful to BBOWT’s Giles Alder and Laura Parker for hosting us.

Watch the film to hear Mark explain the importance of the Orchid Observers project: