Orchids, butterflies and swifts

Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis)

It’s a wonderful experience to walk through the woodland as the light trickles through the leaves, speckled wood butterflies fluttering by and enchanter’s nightshade blooming under the hazel. Common spotted orchids will be flowering on the verges of the wide sunny rides and birds will be singing. At Wilderhope Manor, young swifts will be doing acrobatics around the roof and screeching as they go.

Our sunny meadows fill with a variety of stunning colours; you can find pyramidal orchids, purple vetch, devil’s-bit scabious, bird’s-foot trefoil, lady’s bedstraw and more. All sorts of butterflies feed on these beautiful wild flowers on warm days, including meadow brown, little skipper, marbled white and ringlet. Volunteers walk transects in the meadows every week from April to September, collecting data on the species and numbers present that goes into the national recording scheme.

Marbled white butterfly
Marbled white butterfly
Marbled white butterfly
Gatekeeper butterfly
Gatekeeper butterfly
Gatekeeper butterfly

Orchids out on the Edge (June–July)

As you enter our car park in Much Wenlock and look to the left, you’ll see lots of purple spikes on the verge. These are southern marsh orchids and are notoriously difficult to identify with confidence because they vary greatly in appearance, with flowers ranging from dark to pale pink and markings varying considerably. To add to the confusion, they hybridise with other Dactyloriza species such as common spotted orchid. Southern marsh orchids are often thought of as a coastal species but they do grow inland in damp meadows and on river banks.

Lots of beautiful common spotted orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsia) are flowering on Wenlock Edge now (June) and they should stay in bloom until August. They’re very distinctive and named for their leaves, which are green with purplish oval spots and grow in a rosette at ground level. They have light pink flowers that form densely packed clusters on tall spikes and have darker pink markings on the three-lobed lips of their petals. The common spotted is the most common of all UK orchids because it grows in calcareous to neutral soils and in lots of different habitats including woodland, roadside verges, hedgerows, old quarries, sand dunes and marshes. For the best chance of seeing a good show of these orchids in bloom, follow the Jenny Wind self-guided walk.

Also flowering in June and July are pyramidal orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis). This species is named for its pyramid-shaped cluster of flowers, ranging from bright to pale pink, but confusion can arise because the flower becomes more cylindrical as it develops. It is a native perennial of well-drained limestone soils and, like many orchids, needs a specific fungus to be present in the soil in order to bloom. You can see lots of these orchids in Ippikin’s meadow.

Wilderhope Manor - the largest colony of swifts in Shropshire

Swifts are very interesting birds. Superb fliers, they eat and even sleep on the wing! They have long scythe-like wings with a distinctive short forked tail. They are summer visitors to the UK, where they breed, and they spend the winter in Africa. A nickname for them is ‘devil screamers’ and they live up to that name in the summer, towards dusk, as flocks of them career madly around the chimneys at Wilderhope, screaming excitedly as they go.