June 2022 - Visit to Cley Hill & Writhlington School Orchid Houses
On 10th June we went on an exciting field trip to see native and tropical orchids in Cley Hill and Writhlington School. This was a follow-up to our Zoom talk last December by orchid expert and school teacher Simon Pugh-Jones.

It was a perfect afternoon, and with the help of some very knowledgeable pupils we soon discovered five different species of native (hardy) orchids – Bee, Pyramidal, Fragrant and Common Spotted Orchid and Twayblade. Along with these were many other wild flowers, many of which we haven't seen locally, such as Sainfoin, Milkwort, Early Gentian (nationally rare) and Squinancywort.
Bee Orchid
Common Spotted Orchid

All of these hardy plants enjoy the steep chalk grassy slopes of Cley Hill. Simon explained that orchids are “deceit pollinators” in that they mimic the pollinating insects but do not give a nectar reward, eg the Bee Orchid mimics the female bee, and other orchids mimic their specific pollinators (butterflies, moths, midges and gnats).

We also saw many peacock butterfly caterpillars on their host plant the common nettle, and mating six-spot Burnet moths on horseshoe vetch. Nine species of snail were identified, including grass snail, heath, Kentish, wrinkly and copse snails (thanks to Andy and Jane Daw for identifying them!). Photo: Peacock butterfly caterpillars

We were very excited to see a Red Kite flying overhead, and heard long-tailed tits, yellowhammers and song thrush. House martins, buzzards and chaffinches also made their presence known, so all in all a very enjoyable afternoon!
Photo: Six-spot burnet moths mating
We then made our way to the glasshouses in Writhlington School, which are divided into six distinct growing environments containing 1000 different tropical orchids, each in their specific zone. Many of these have been grown from seed by the students, a tricky task as pollination has to be done by hand (not having the specific pollinators to hand, eg tropical wasps, ants, hummingbirds, bees, midges, butterflies and moths), the seeds are dust-like, the growing medium is specific, and the surrounding environment also has to be sterile.

We were unfortunately not able to spend as long as we would have liked in the glasshouses; the tropical orchids were so colourful and every one had a story to tell, if only we could have stayed to listen to all their tales!

Thanks once again to Simon and his amazing pupils for our unforgettable day.

Liz Wintle

Photos by Dave Sage

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