IN the spring of 2019 a colony of Bee Orchids was found on an old factory site in Silsden by local resident Paul Redshaw, a naturalist, landscape photographer and Royal Botanical expert having trained at Edinburgh and Kew Botanical Gardens.

Knowing the site had provisional planning permission for housing Mr Redshaw sought advice and gained permission to save the orchids.

Mr Redshaw said: “Bee Orchids are not a common species at all in West Yorkshire as the soils are unfavourably acidic, however brownfield sites such as the Weaverstyle site that has been left for some time often become valuable habitats in their own right. Bee Orchids favour disturbed sites and usually where limestone in some capacity has been added onto the site.”

Mr Redshaw found out the Preliminary Ecological Appraisal undertaken for the site had failed to notice the orchids and they were never recorded. Mr Redshaw said: “I can’t understand how they could be missed; they are a wintergreen species, which means they grow their leaves in the winter, between September and right through until the following Spring. Furthermore many would be flowering from April/May right through until August thus these are highly visible plants for most of the year. The sad fact is that despite these orchids not being a protected species, they needed to be saved because they are the first orchids ever to be recorded in Silsden.”

Trying to find a new home for them was a big concern. Mr Redshaw said: “ I wanted to keep them in Silsden, they really need to be re-homed near to where there were found. A lot of people don’t know this but Silsden has a great heritage with orchids, in particular the Jarman Family who found the last surviving colony of The Ladies Slipper Orchid and kept it secret for over 40 years. The Jarman’s lived in Brunthwaite, Silsden and also in Riddlesden and all family members were involved in keeping the orchid secret.”

Mr Redshaw spent much of 2019 researching the full facts to ascertain the truth to this story and its connections with Silsden which he subsequently had published at the beginning of this year. He had planned to give a talk on it, but had to cancel due to the current circumstances.

At his own expense Mr Redshaw looked after the Bee Orchids as he sought to find the right place for them to be re-homed. The land owner had given him one condition; that the orchids go where the public could readily have access to see them. It was apparent early on that Silsden couldn’t re-home them as there was not only a lack of public green space but also any space that could be suitably modified for them. Mr Redshaw felt particularly concerned about this. “It is wrong that towns like Silsden are being developed whilst very little effort is made by developers to create an attractive ‘green’ environment, which we all know makes us much happier people,” he said. “In the case of these Bee Orchids, a valuable habitat, which the people of Silsden could have enjoyed as a local nature reserve was not kept as a valuable community asset.”

Some of the Bee Orchids have now got a new home close by. In January of this year Mr Redshaw met with Hilary Cave, head teacher of Addingham Primary School, along with Professor Rick Battarbee, of Addingham Environmental Group, to discuss if there were any habitats suitable for some Bee Orchids, either within nature areas at the school or around the village. Various sites were explored and it was agreed that some sites could be trialled with Bee Orchids. In all, 23 orchids were subsequently handed to Addingham Environmental Group with a promise from Prof Battarbee that the people of Addingham have the possibility of seeing one as they wander around the village next spring.

Working with English Nature, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and Cumbria Wildlife Trust, a further three locations were identified across Northern England in which a further 120 orchids were planted out. One in North Yorkshire and two in South Lakeland. Mr Redshaw was disappointed that his efforts to keep the Bee Orchids in Silsden couldn’t be realised but recognises that at their new homes they are much safer and will be enjoyed by visitors to the reserves.

He added: “If you see one of the saved Bee Orchids around Addingham next spring in full bloom please do not pick them but leave it as a surprise for the next person.”