Fen Orchid: A Dune Conservation Success Story

By Emma Brisdion

The tiny yellow flowers of the fen orchid once added bright splashes of colour to the sand dunes across the coast of south Wales, giving the dune slacks which they carpeted a floral sunny hue in June. But, as Wales’ dune habitats have fragmented and become overcrowded with thick vegetation, this delicate little specialist species has been forced out of the landscape.

The sand dunes at Kenfig became the last place in the UK that the fen orchid survived. In recent years a partnership project between Plantlife, Natural Resources Wales and Bridgend County Borough Council has fought sought to save it. Fen orchid like bare sand and low vegetation as they only reach around 8cm tall, and damp areas with high levels of calcium, making healthy and well-maintained dune slacks the perfect habitat for them.

Improving the health of the Kenfig dunes, by exposing bare sand to re-start the natural processes of sand movement across the dunes and by scraping turf and removing thick vegetation in the shallow dune slacks, has created the perfect conditions for the fen orchid (and many other rare dune-specialised species) to thrive once again.

Fen orchid

The success of this project has helped guide some of the conservation plans that are part of Dynamic Dunescapes in Wales, as we plan to continue supporting the growing fen orchid population and to re-introduce populations to other Welsh dune systems, where it was found historically. As well as improving dune slacks, we’ll also be creating new ones, and we’ll be keeping vegetation low by encouraging rabbit populations to grow and to graze the dunes, and also by manually mowing some areas.

For more information about fen orchid conservation and the work undertaken at Kenfig Burrows, enjoy this wonderful video produced by Plantlife.