Native British Orchids: Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981

After our last orchid hunting trip out into the countryside, I began to wonder whether orchids growing in the wild could be picked. As a child I can remember being told not to pick any flowers that were wild grown, but I wanted further clarification on this subject. Hello Google.

Common Spotted Orchids
Common Spotted Orchids found in a wildlife reserve meadow.

The main piece of legislation in the UK that provides all wild flowers with some protection is the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. Under this law all wild flowers are protected from being uprooted. There are some species of plant, including some orchids that have even greater protection under Section 13 of this Act. This section stipulates that any orchid listed under Schedule 8 are protected from picking, uprooting and destruction. To do so, without seeking permission from the landowner or occupier first, is an offence.

As stated, some species orchids have greater protection than others. According to the Hardy Orchid Society, the orchids that require permits to be obtained before they can be moved are:-

  • Early Spider orchid
  • Late Spider orchid
  • Ghost orchid
  • Lapland marsh orchid
  • Lizard orchid
  • Military orchid
  • Monkey orchid
  • Red Helleborine
  • Lady Slipper orchid
  • Fen orchid

Protecting Habitats

Sometimes when visiting orchid sites, we can cause accidental damage to their habitat. It is important to try and limit the amount of damage caused where possible, and to avoid publicising the location of rare orchids. Instead, inform your local Wildlife Trust or statutory conservation agency as they will be able to help protect the plants and their habitats in the future. Some conversation bodies or landowners allow access only at certain times, and it is important to respect these requests.

Picking Wild Plants

It appears that some orchids can be picked, but it does depend on their location. Orchids growing in protected sites or nature reserves require permission before you pick them. The Wild Flower Society has a useful section on their website that outlines where and how much you can pick for personal use.

Whilst we would like to have orchid blooms in our homes that have been growing in the wild, having read up on the above, I feel it is best to leave them in their habitats. Enjoy them when you see them, but there appears to be more benefit to the orchid if they are left alone.

Happy growing.



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