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Endangered Orchid Saved by Golfers


Golfers may have unwittingly rescued one of Britainís rarest flowers from the verge of extinction by sowing its seeds on course.

The lizard orchid, Britainís tallest and largest native orchid, has been found flourishing on golf courses across southern England. Botanists think that it will soon be prevalent enough to be removed from the list of endangered plants.

The flower, with lizard-shaped petals, has found its greatest haven at Royal St Georgeís Golf Club in Kent, where numbers have grown from hundreds to thousands since the late 1980ís.

The Lizard Orchid

St Georgeís, a coastal links course which will host the Open in 2003, has become a sanctuary for many rare plants because of its sympathetic management. The club leaves its rough untouched and has introduced no fertilisers or foreign plants.

The success of the lizard orchid is, however, unprecedented. Peter Carey, of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, near Huntingdon, has been monitoring the lizard orchidís spread. He said: "The species now has a good core population and is safer than it was. This is in no small part due to the assistance of Royal St Georgeís."

The course is also home to 11 other orchids, including the helleborine, the man orchid and early spider orchid. The lizard orchid is now

establishing itself at other courses, spreading from 10 to 19 sites since 1994.

"It could be that golfers are moving the seeds on their clothes, shoes and clubs," said Mr Carey. "The orchid has incredibly light seeds and blows around, but it also sticks easily to anything slightly moist and is difficult to get off". He said traditional golf links were crucial flora havens.

"Sympathetic management is needed," he explained.

"Many modern courses tend to use lots of chemical sprays and are heavily mowed like the American models. They are pretty bad for all wild flowers."


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