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Brighton to bloom with wild orchids

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credit: Chris Moody

Meadows filled with stunning orchids are soon to be one of the sights of Brighton, thanks to a project to bring the South Downs into the city.

Common spotted orchids, which have purple-spotted leaves and delicate pale pink to purple flower spikes, will be planted on grassy banks in the centre of Brighton next spring. They will be joined the following year by striking bee orchids, so called because they have flowers that resemble a bee resting on a pink bloom, and the more understated autumn lady’s tresses orchids which have a delicate fragrance that attracts night-flying insects.

Brighton and Hove City Council City Parks team is working with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, on the project as part of the South Downs Way Ahead Nature Improvement Area (NIA) initiative which aims to expand and connect wildlife habitats.

“The orchids will look fantastic! As well as providing a range of attractive flowers, the wildflower areas also attract bees, butterflies and birds. The result is to bring attractive nature to areas previously known as green deserts, where grass verges were mown flat,” said Mark Gapper, Brighton and Hove City Council Wildflower Garden Manager.

The meadows are an interpretation of Sussex Downs’ chalkland habitats of a century ago, although, “there are many challenges involved in recreating the countryside of the past in the city of today,” said Gapper.

Gapper’s team have already been creating wildflower meadows on steep grass banks in the city that are not suitable for sport and are difficult to mow. Plans are also being made to extend these chalk grassland habitats across larger areas of the city.

The South Downs Way Ahead NIA is one of twelve nature zones set up in April this year and awarded a share of £7.5 million government funding to create wildlife havens, restore habitats and encourage local people to get involved with nature.

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