Trenport promotes 'dark art' project
  • 04 10 2015

Trenport promotes 'dark art' project

Source: Steve Loader

Trenport aims to build more than homes at Peters Village over the next few years – it also wants to create a new colony for a rare orchid.

Part of the site is already home to an outpost of the Man Orchid – so-called because the blooms resemble a cascade of dangling human figures.

Trenport’s ecological advisors are working to ensure this exotic-looking plant’s tenure is further assured by the establishment of a new colony through sowing and laboratory propagation of seed.

The work represents part of ongoing environmental mitigation and enhancement efforts by Trenport, which included preserving the local habitat of the Great Crested Newt, and safeguarding one of only two UK populations for the Marsh Mallow Moth by transplanting and propagating the equally scarce and hollyhock-like Marsh Mallow plant - the moth’s preferred habitat.

However, propagating the Man Orchid is a far more challenging task according to Dominic Woodfield, Director of Trenport’s specialist independent ecological consultants Bioscan:

“Wild orchids are notoriously fickle. Translocating plants at Peters Village has been tried by others, without obvious success, so we have opted for a two-pronged approach: harvesting and transplanting ripe seed heads to encourage natural germination, but also attempting to propagate seeds here at Bioscan (near Oxford).

“This is a bit of a dark art. Successful germination of the tiny dust-like seeds in the wild is dependent on the presence of a mycorrhizal fungal partner but may be achieved in the lab with a surrogate culture.

“The seeds also require various pre-treatments and careful handling before sowing onto culture. The whole process takes up to three years so we won’t really be sure for some time whether we have succeeded or failed.

“Given this risk, it reflects well on Trenport that the company is prepared to fund something with such a slim chance of success. We are working hard to maximise the chances of their investment fostering a new colony of which they can be proud.”

Trenport Director Chris Hall said: “While our main aim is to be a quality developer of land, we see no conflict with caring for and enhancing the habitat of rare flora and fauna. We have a good track record so far and we hope the orchid project brings yet more success.”

The Man Orchid (Orchis anthropophora) likes alkaline soils produced by limestone and chalk, as in the Peters Village area where chalk used to be quarried for cement production.

The plant is common across Europe, but rarer in the UK, with colonies largely confi ned to southern England. Given a well-drained grassy or edge-of-shade spot it will grow to a foot in height, blooming from April to June to produce its distinctive yellow-green ‘man’ flowers, leading to seed pods packed with microscopic seeds.