Orchids seem so exotic, and possibly because of that it’s a wonderful pleasure to find them growing wild on our own little patch of Eden. On such a sturdy flower spike, or inflorescence, put out by the broad-leaved marsh orchid that’s found an excellent habitat in these upland fellsides, upwards of 40 separate blooms cluster, clearly orchid in shape, beckoning insects to explore their inner recesses. I’d have liked the leaves of this plant to have been dappled with spots, to make a more definitive species identification, but the flowers do seem to fit the bill of Dactylorhiza majalis. The species guide does say that not all members of the species have dapple-spotted leaves.
I’ve seen these orchids used as an icon of the North Pennines, but an observer may be surprised at how small the plant is. Roughly between 10-15cm in height, you could easily miss them in the profusion of other hay meadow flowers. But when you do see them, you feel you should drop to your knees and snap an image, immediately. Perhaps it was about two decades ago that we noticed the collection of small orchids at the bottom of the track. It’s so lovely to think that at least one specimen is still there; iPlant suggests that their habitat is diminishing and they’re in decline. Not here, not yet, apparently.
But for how much longer will these fellsides be a special preserve of some incredible biodiversity? The profusion of restored hay meadows throughout this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has been a cause for celebration, and certainly the two meadows to the west and south of us put on a spectacularly enchanting display from about now until mowing in mid-late July. The number of different wild flowers is simply astounding, and their tiny subtleties are such a pleasure to behold. We’ve lived in this glorious nirvana of biodiversity for decades.
It’s the job of quangos like the NP-AONB to help ensure that these places are maintained, and by all the evidence they’re doing a brilliant job. Nobody wants to be complacent, of course, but as long as the financing is in place to keep these spots safe, as long as the will is there, it seems more likely than not that they will remain for future generations.
And that must be a hope that we can all cherish.