Bee careful! Council sorry for mowing down rare orchids

bee orchids
The area where the Bee Orchids were found Picture Alastair Driver

A SONNING conservationist has called on the borough council to “get its act together” after its contractors mowed down a field of protected bee orchids — just one day after it was asked to safeguard them.

On Tuesday, June 8, village resident and director of ecology charity Rewilding Britain Alastair Driver discovered a patch of Bee Orchids on Shepherds Hill on the Earley/Woodley/Sonning border.

He said they were “a pretty incredible” find, and has now urged Wokingham Borough Council to reconsider its biodiversity strategy to stop “unnecessary mowing”.

“Bee Orchids are pretty unusual, and there are none in Sonning that I’m aware of,” he said.

“I’ve lived here a long time, I’m a professional ecologist and naturalist, and we’ve never come across them.

“So, to find 27 flowering in an area of grassland on the Shepherds Hill Roundabout was pretty incredible.”

Mr Driver said despite contacting the council and receiving confirmation the flowers would be protected, he was sad to hear they had been mowed down only a day later.

“It’s not difficult to spot them — they’re quite striking,” he said. “It’s a pretty sad state of affairs.

“And it doesn’t matter how hard people tried to [protect the plants]. If the end result is the flowers get mowed down, the council may as well not care at all.”

Bee orchids
Bee Orchids get their name from their distinctive marking which looks like the female insect. They draw in the male, in an attempt to mate, who ends up pollinating the flower. Picture Alastair Driver

Wokingham Borough Council said it will now consider additional measures to “safeguard” certain species, and is grateful Mr Driver highlighted the plants.

“We had been made aware of the Bee Orchids by Mr Driver,” a spokesperson said. “We confirmed the location and asked our contractors Tivoli Group not to mow the area and be aware of wildflowers generally in the area.

“We apologise they were cut.”

Bee Orchids are a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). This means nobody can intentionally uproot the flowers.

Mr Driver said the council has a “legal duty” to protect the species, and all wildflower meadows in the borough.

“We’ve got a climate and a biodiversity crisis, so local authorities have to go to do their bit,” he said.

“They need to get their act together and quickly. They mow a lot of buttercups and daisies but it’s completely unnecessary.

“In many places, mowing isn’t done because of visibility issues but a historical tidiness mentality.”

Now, the charity director is calling on the council to reassess its mowing practices to better support wildflowers and pollinating insects.

“This was an area that didn’t need mowing,” he said. “So it’s got to be sorted.

“Another year will go by where lots of wildflowers and pollinating areas have been mowed unnecessarily in the middle of flowering season.

“A lot of Thames Valley farmland doesn’t support wildflower grasslands, so these are some of the best bits we have left.”

Mr Driver said in the past 100 years, the UK has lost 90% of its wildflower meadows to development.

Wokingham Borough Council said it welcomes residents and community members to let it know when they find a plant of interest.

The spokesperson said the council will try to pinpoint the plant’s location before sending the details over to its contractors.

“We request that the area is left uncut providing the plant the opportunity to bloom and disperse their seeds,” they explained.

“At the start of each grass cutting season a reminder is sent out to contractors of previously reported wildflower areas.”

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