Wednesday, June 24, 2009
This is Red Helleborine (Cephalanthera rubra). It's found at only 3 sites in the UK, including this site in the Chiltern Hills. Understandably, it is classified as critically endangered. This is one of just 5 flowering plants found here. The Volunteer Warden, Roger Newman, has spent hours studying these plants: visiting the secret site where it is found right through the year; diligently studying all he can about the species; visiting Kew Gardens to learn the delicate techniques of pollinating the plant artificially; trying all manner of things to stop slugs, rabbits and other pests from consuming the plants; patiently watching the flowering heads for hour after hour to try to discover what invertebrates might be adapted to pollinate the plant naturally; liasing with enthusiasts engaged in the same work at the other two sites in Gloucestershire & Hampshire where this special plant is found. In short, it has been a real labour of love.
Today I witnessed first-hand the dismay on Roger's face and heard him question whether it was all worth it. I was looking on as he entered the enclosure and witnessed the scene of devastation before him. Notice the broken stalk to the right of the flowering head in the photo.
When he last visited this site 2 days ago the 5 plants were looking good, though the flowers themselves were paler and their numbers down on previous years. This morning this solitary flowering head was the last one.....3 of the others had been snapped off, the 4th and best of the blooms was bent over and broken.
What creature had caused this? The fact that the wire cages and anti-slug copper rings had been removed and placed in a pile made it pretty clear. Some person, for some reason - probably someone wanting a photo of this rare plant - had entered the enclosure, removed the safeguards and then, somehow, absolutely vandalised the plants before leaving.
It beggars belief. How could someone do this? All of us who were there felt angry and empathised with Roger's frustration.
Tomorrow, I've got no doubt that Roger will pick himself up, make his way back to the site and spend the first of many more hours doing whatever he can to ensure the survival of these special plants. Roger, don't let them beat you. Keep going with the marvellous work you're doing. You are making a difference and I take my hat off to you!