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 orchid@nhm.ac.uk 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 orchid@nhm.ac.uk 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:

A very busy month!

Written by Mike Waller

The last month has been very busy one for the Orchid Observers team. In between filming, field recording and running the now flourishing website, we’ve been showcasing the project to the public with our debut publicity events at Lyme Regis Fossil Festival followed by Big Nature Day at the Natural History Museum. Both were opportunities to engage members of the public with the project, its importance in the wider study of biological responses to climate change, and how their contributions will expand and enrich the project’s research.

lyme NHM stand

Over 30 museum staff and volunteers head to Lyme Regis every year for the Fossil Festival

To draw in the unsuspecting, we erected a 50 inch plasma-screen TV with a rolling slideshow of Fred, Chris and my finest and most colourful orchid images from across the country. We then lavishly adorned our tables with a selection of some of our oldest orchid specimens from deep within the Museum’s herbarium – some dating back to the 1850s! To aid with any queries, we also propped up a variety of UK orchid guides to show the breadth of orchid diversity on our shores. This, alongside our endless reservoir of passion and enthusiasm, resulted in some really enlightening and inspiring conversations.

Mike at LymeOur Orchid Observers display at the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival

Lyme Regis Fossil Festival ran over three days from May 1st -3rd giving us a good period of time to engage a wide range of people from all over the country. This was key as it broadened our ability to spread the message of the project to areas that are less frequently recorded by observers. In order to gain a clear understanding of the orchid response to climate change, we need to be getting data from all corners of the country and so this was a real boost.
We had countless inquires about where to find orchids both close to Lyme Regis and near to people’s homes – I was able to help with the latter with my reasonable knowledge of the key orchid sites in most counties. However, we were all amazed by the sheer quantity of people who were already well aware of their local orchid populations and even conduct their own flowering counts! It seems many have a particular affection for ‘their’ local Bee orchids.


The beautiful sea of Green-winged orchids on Stonebarrow Hill

Thanks to Chris we also managed to squeeze in a spot of observing ourselves! During the afternoon on Friday, Kath, Chris and I drove out to look for Green-winged orchids 10 minutes from Lyme on the National Trust’s reserve of Stonebarrow Hill. What greeted us was a purple haze of Green-winged orchids in a huge variety of colour forms carpeting two ancient hay meadows. Kath was largely overcome by the experience as it has been a long-held ambition for her to see Green-winged orchids; the sight was indeed a true spectacle.


A beautiful white variety of the Green-winged orchid

Just a few weeks after that, Big Nature Day took place on the 23rd of May here at the Museum with Fred and Mark also getting stuck in this time. Like Lyme, we were able to speak to plenty of keen members of the public with a good proportion of families showing interest. Our lovely colourful project cards seemed to be very popular with the children! Hopefully they’ll be inspired to go out and take some pictures.


The Orchid Observers stand at Big Nature Day

In the coming months, we’re looking to expand our publicity efforts and attend more wildlife-orientated events elsewhere in the UK so look out for us!

BND orchid teamFrom left to right, Kath Castillo, Fred Rumsey, Mark Spencer and me (Mike Waller)

Join us at Big Nature Day on Saturday 23rd May

The beautiful sunny weather we’ve had over the past week or two has been fantastic for orchids and we’ve had lots of great photographs uploaded to the site. You can view and classify the uploaded photos by clicking on Identify. Great weather also makes for fabulous public events and we’ve been attending or organising a number of events where the Orchid Observers team have been talking about the project and encouraging people to get involved.

On the first bank holiday weekend in May we attended the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival (more about that in a later post) and yesterday was the third International Fascination of Plants Day where we showcased botanical specimens and projects all over the Natural History Museum.

This Saturday 23rd May is one of our biggest events of the year – Big Nature Day.


Big Nature Day is a celebration of the diversity of life in the UK and we have 40 different nature groups and wildlife recording schemes coming to the Museum to showcase their work and talk about the groups of organisms they study. In marquees in the Museum’s Darwin Centre courtyard and Wildlife Garden, groups will have stands and activities suitable for families and it’s a great opportunity for nature-loving adults to meet like-minded people. It’s the Museum’s annual celebration of the variety of nature, in recognition of the UN International Day of Biological Diversity.

The event is free to attend, so come along and meet naturalists from across the UK. The Orchid Observers team will be there with a display of orchids from the museum’s collections, so you can see some of the specimens you’ve been working on and find out more about the project.

We hope to see some of you there!

Event details:

  • Natural History Museum, London
  • Saturday 23rd May 2015
  • 11:00 – 17:00
  • Free