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Orchids and other wildlife on Lindisfarne

An account of a fabulous day spent exploring the orchids and other wildlife of Lindisfarne – the jewel in the crown of wild Northumberland.

Lindisfarne is one of those magical places that each time you visit, never fails to take your breath away. Diverse, beautiful and altogether unique, it must surely rank among Britain’s ‘must see‘ sites for nature. Particularly when it comes to botany.

At the weekend, I was able to visit Lindisfarne for the first time this year thanks to a generous lift from a friend. A visit timed perfectly to coincide with the island’s most iconic spectacle: blooming orchids.

It is not only the diversity of orchids on Lindisfarne that takes your breath away but the number of them. Indeed, during our stay, we observed many thousands of orchids strewen across the island. Some of these, and some other highlights, are shared below.

Orchids on the Snook

Starting out at the Snook towards the Western end of the island and what struck me first was the abundance of Common Spotted Orchids. Big ones, small ones, pink ones, even pure white ones; the diversity was striking. The whiter ones almost convinced me they were Heath Spotted Orchid but alas, not this time. The alba variant of common spotted will have to do.

There were good numbers of Northern Marsh Orchids here too, though most had gone over. Where spotted and marsh orchids coexist, hybrids are never far behind and it wasn’t long until we discovered our first: Dactylorhiza x venusta. The hybrid of the former two species, this was significantly larger than all nearby orchids – as shown in the picture below. Hybrid vigour?

Much to my delight, among the more abundant spotted and marsh orchids on the Snook, several Early Marsh Orchids were also spotted. Indeed, with their pale pink flowers and lower lip folded lower lip, they certainly stood out from the pack.

Local specialities

It would be impossible to visit Lindisfarne and not marvel at the sight of countless blooming Marsh Helleborines. Probably the most numerous orchid on the island, hundreds were seen on the Snook and then again at further stops thereafter. Growing in profusion across dune slacks and damp areas, when visiting Lindisfarne, it is quite easy to forget that this is actually a rare plant in our region. Indeed, they are found at only a handful of sites in the North East.

When talking about orchids on Lindisfarne, it is possible not to mention the endemic Lindisfarne Helleborine. First discovered on the island in 1958, this was once thought to be the same as Dune Helleborine, before being split. The debate now rages on as to its true identity and some suggest it should be lumped once more.

Regardless of the taxonomic discussions, Lindisfarne Helleborine is a scarce and rather lovely plant. Hard to find, encounters are definitely to be savoured. We stumbled across eleven plants during our stay, some of which were thankfully still in flower.

A few more orchids

Pyramidal Orchid is not a species I see often. Living where I do in South Northumberland, the species remains an uncommon sight. The same, however, cannot be said for Lindisfarne and away from the Snook, this species is especially plentiful. Walking west towards Chare Ends and then to the North Shore of the island, these beautiful little orchids were especially numerous and proved a hit with the local Narrow-bordered Five-Spot Burnet moths.

A slightly more muted orchid, Common Twayblade also grows in abundance on Lindisfarne. Present in good numbers towards the Eastern side of the island, we saw perhaps 100 during our stay, including some fairly impressive stalks.

Similarly coloured but much more elusive, Frog Orchid is one of the rarer orchids on Lindisfarne. Tiny, inconspicuous and hard to find, it took us longer than it should to find our first and only flower of the day. A rare orchid in the North East, this isn’t something I see often at all and as such, made for quite the highlight.

Other Plants

Of course, there is far more to Lindisfarne than just orchids. With far too much to mention in a single blog post, I have aimed to keep this bit short by including only a few highlights from the trip.

At the Snook, it was fantastic to stumble across some impressive drifts of Seaside Centaury, another rare plant boasting a stronghold on the island. With its lurid pink flowers, it certainly made for an impressive sight. Slightly less ‘in your face’ were the leaves of Round-leaved Wintergreen, a new species for me and a national scarcity.

Exploring some of the dune slacks around the Snook, Autumn Gentian was another nice addition to the day’s tally. The plant in question only just coming into bloom. Damper areas here held an intriguing mix of Bog Pimpernel, Variegated Horsetail, Lesser Spearwort and other nice plants.

Slightly more conspicuous, the sward at the Snook also held an abundance of Lesser Clubmoss – not something I have knowingly seen before elsewhere.

Lesser Clubmoss (Selaginella selaginoides)

Moving off elsewhere on the island, a jaunt to the drier North shore and the small quarry present there produced several nice sightings. Blue Fleabane was noted here and the quarry itself held Brookweed around what was left of the small pond here. The non-native Piri Piri, sadly present across the Island these days, was particularly prolific here too. A shame, and quite problematic for visiting botanists!

Scots Lovage is a rare plant locally and one at the southern edge of its national distribution in Northumberland. At least when it comes to the east coast of Britain. We were pleased to see a rather healthy stand of this low-growing umbellifer in the dunes whilst walking back to the car.

A few insects

While for me, insects were not the main purpose of the trip, it was nice to observe a few noteworthy species on our travels. Bees were a particular highlight with three new species spotted during the day, at least if our tentative IDs are correct.

Best among the bees were the two elusive coastal leafcutters shown below. Dull-vented Sharp-tailed Bee was also noted and on the bumblebee front, it was exciting to spot Heath Bumblebee.

Looking downward, Dune Chafers made for an intriguing sight as they tunnelled in the sand. In the air, Dark Green Fritillaries were a highlight among a cast of butterflies which also included Common Blue, Small Skipper and Red Admiral.

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