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Rare plants under threat from thieves

This is an archived press release

Thursday 14 August 2008

14 August 2008

Rare plants under threat from thieves

The police, environmental and gardening groups have joined together to condemn thieves who have stolen a rare type of orchid from the Peak District National Park countryside.

The Dark Red Helleborine orchids were dug up and removed from the Stoney Middleton area between 16 and 23 July.

The Peak District National Park Authority, Natural England, National Trust, Derby Museum and Art Gallery and the Royal Horticultural Society have all expressed concern about the impact that losing the rare plants could have on biodiversity in the Peak District.

Unless the theft has been carried out by someone with specialist knowledge the orchids that have been stolen are likely to die anyway due to the difficulty of successfully transplanting rare plants. Even legal attempts to move orchids for conservation reasons often fail.

Rhodri Thomas, natural environment team manager for the Peak District National Park Authority, said: “The actions of the thieves have damaged a nationally important wildlife site and put a rare plant under further threat.

“Orchids are popular flowers but it is important that they are left to flourish in their natural environment - in this case the limestone area of the White Peak.

“The Dark Red Helleborine orchids are only found in five areas of the UK. Their numbers in the Peak District fell sharply in the 1960s due to mineral extraction and now there are not many plants left so it is important we do everything possible to protect them.”

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 it is an offence to pick rare plants. It is also a criminal offence to take plants from land without the owner’s permission.

Pete Charleston, wildlife crime co-ordinator for Derbyshire Constabulary, said: “Some people might be surprised to know that it is a crime to take plants from the countryside but these orchids are as much a part of our heritage as a painting in an art gallery or museum and so deserve protection too.

“We are very keen to hear from anybody who has information about the theft of the Dark Red Helleborine orchids in the Stoney Middleton area or any similar incidents.”

Dark Red Helleborine orchids - also known as Epipactis atrorubens - are scarce nationally. They are usually 15cm to 30cm tall, with a hairy stem and up to 20 flowers. The flowers are distinctive because they grow in two opposite rows on either side of the stem.

Dr John David, head of botany at the Royal Horticultural Society, said “We utterly condemn the theft of a Dark Red Helleborine from its native habitat in the Peak District National Park.

“These plants should always be left where they can sustain a natural population and people who really care about our native plants will understand that this is the best way to conserve them.

“The RHS also encourages gardeners, when acquiring plants of wild species, to always check that they have been obtained from sustainable, cultivated sources and not to accept plants they suspect to have been dug up from the wild.”

Anyone with information about the orchid theft should ring Derbyshire Constabulary on 0845 123 3333.

This is an archived press release

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