Friday, May 07, 2010

"Britain's rarest wild flower gets special police protection"


The Lady's Slipper orchid at Silverdale Golf Course in Carnfoth, Lancashire, is the last remaining flowering plant in the country.
Although experts have tried to re-introduce the purple and yellow bloom in other areas, none of them have flowered.

Lancashire Police is now mounting a three-pronged defence of the flower amid concerns thieves may strike in May or June when the plant flowers.

Officers have been ordered to 'ensure the safety' of the orchid by including it in their routine foot patrols, meaning they will pass it every hour or so.

Police will also tag the 100-year-old orchid with a coded security mark so that anyone who tries to sell a cutting to wildflower collectors can be caught.

The force is also considering spending thousands of pounds on CCTV cameras to keep a 24-hour watch on the orchid, which is protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

PC Tony Marsh, beat manager for the area, told Police Review: "We will be doing passing patrols, putting up deterrent notices, warning people about the offences and (asking them) to report any suspicious activity."

The orchid has been given a unique log number on the police computer system - which will alert the duty officer whenever a report concerning the flower is received.

Last June a thief took a cutting from the plant, leaving it with just six flowers, and in 2004 a collector tried to dig up the entire plant by its roots, but managed to get away with just a part of the plant.

PC Marsh added: "The biggest threat is collectors. When flowers were taken last year, we think purely just to press and put in a book, the value on the crime report was thousands of pounds."

PC Marsh has even circled the rare orchid with police crime scene tape in a bid to deter potential thieves.

PC Duncan Thomas, wildlife officer for Lancashire Constabulary, said the orchid - whose Latin name is Cypripedium calceolus - was "incredibly important".

He said: "The Lady Slipper orchid is an incredibly important plant, having survived for over a hundred years when all other plants were thought extinct. It is iconic to many people who enjoy wildlife in Britain.

"People travel from all ends of the country on what is almost a pilgrimage to view the plant in bloom and are often overcome with emotion at the sight.

"We have been monitoring this amazing plant for a number of years and you can't help being impressed by not only its rarity but the incredible display when flowering.

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