Round about now kettle-cases start popping up on the Isle of Wight. That’s the local name for early-purple orchids, which, as the name suggests, start flowering relatively early, in spring. If you live in England it won’t be long before it’s the same round your way, if it isn’t already.
Orchids are mysterious things, appearing apparently from nowhere, flowering spectacularly, and then disappearing sometimes for years. No wonder they have a certain mystique. A perennial question, almost an urban myth, concerns the protected status of orchids. Are orchids protected? Actually, no, not necessarily. There are some rare orchids, and yes, they get protected; but there are a lot of others, and certainly most of the orchids we enjoy seeing on roadside verges and the like have no greater protection than dandelions.
That’s because many orchids are not actually very rare, just hard to find because of their habit of flowering briefly, and of disappearing for seasons and then reappearing seemingly at random.
But it’s not true to say that orchids are not protected at all, because all wild plants are protected when growing in the wild to a very limited extent. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 section 13 1(b) all wild flowers are protected from uprooting (although not picking or cutting, and not when it’s an incidental result of an otherwise lawful operation, which covers a lot of things). Additionally, some plants, which do include some orchids, have further protection under section 13 1(a) against picking, uprooting and destruction.
Internationally, all orchids are indeed protected by the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITIES). So orchids need a permit before they are traded across borders, but that’s nothing really to do with stopping them from being picked or mown down.
So we should leave the orchids for others to enjoy, but not out of a fear of incarceration, but just because it’s the right thing to do.