- An occasional series of longer Reports and Studies -

Spiranthes romanzoffiana...

Research Work on Over-wintering Spiranthes

Spiranthes Conservation Project Proposal

Spiranthes Conservation Promotional Document

GLAS - new Agricultural Grant Scheme supporting conservation

Spiranthes romanzoffiana is a very rare orchid found on the shores of Lough Allen and few other places. It has emerged and flowered here persistently in the last 10 years or so in decreasing numbers. It is a species that comes and goes but it is still marginal and we would hate to lose it as has happened in England!

This EnviroFeature reviews 2013 records of the species, records a decline in numbers, postulates a cause, proposes a practical conservation project, involves local observers in a partnership and (finally) provides links to R & D documentation developed from experience of Spiranthes around Lough Allen.

“EF14. Spiranthes Conservation Project: 2014 - 2019”
People... Plants... Places...

Records from our 2013 Spiranthes season indicates a
need to protect this species and form better links with International Botany!

Preliminary Observations


It has a uniquely important place in Lough Allen

Whilst it occurs elsewhere in Ireland, north and south, it is nowhere monitored as regularly as here and its consistent pattern of distribution is well known.


Why does it need Conservation?

For many years we shared the view that this species was doing OK and that weather and changing climate were its biggest threat in Lough Allen!


What happened in Lough Allen in 2013?

Flowers emerged as normal in a few sites mainly on the eastern shore of Lough Allen. Weather conditions were good for them but unexpectedly a large percentage of the plants were damaged. This is the first time this has been a widespread problem in Lough Allen and it does threaten the plant’s survival here.


Can ideal conditions be afforded this Plant/Habitat?

We believe so... and much research, planning, and documentation is presented on this page to initiate this project. This work has been developed in association with professional Botanists and local Farmers. It is published here for a wider audience. Funding may well be available for the work now required.

A bit of Research!

To cherish something special you need to understand it. In the paragraphs below we talk about problems and solutions (as we know them) involved in conserving this rare plant species in Lough Allen! But the truth is, little is known of this plant and the reasons for its existence in Ireland. We resolved (following good advice from the Botanic Gardens) to study this species during the Winter — something never done before. There are many theories about it, how it is dispersed, how it survives over winter, it needs tightly cropped grassy shores, or barren ones? This study is ongoing (19th May 2014) and preliminary images are shown HERE (This is a PDF file with a lot of high-res images so it may be a bit slow!)

UpDated 7/6/’14

The 2013 record!

Simply and briefly, from 300+ in 2008 to 34 in 2013 — with many of those specimens being damaged shortly after flowering. This is a disappointing record! The only beneficial outcome is that it is now clear that conservation (protection) measures may be needed, and that farmers are sympathetic to that goal — one farmer being particularly generous and patient with research work being done on his land. All others have been supportive in allowing monitoring trips through or on their land. Many thanks!

The Problem?

The problem arising in 2013 was onshore grazing. This was unexpected, happened in one the most vital areas for Spiranthes, and the damage was done before it was even noticed! It is clear that this was entirely unintentional and in dialogue since we are finding a great welcome among landowners for the concept of rare species and habitat protection. We have enjoyed free access to one farm right through 2013 and into this year and our study of over-wintering Spiranthes is being undertaken there.

It is this enthusiasm that we have met, combined with the need to reduce the risk of damage to this species during its vital flowering season, that has initiated the concept of proactive conservation. If a species is growing well in a habitat that is undisturbed then, often, the best recourse is to leave it be and just tell the landowner that it is there! They will then look after it. Unfortunately many Spiranthes locations are not known locally or land ownership is complicated. But, in all areas, there is an undoubted support for the idea of species and biodiversity protection. Spiranthes romanzoffiana is one of the rarest members of Ireland and Europe’s biodiversity!

The Solution?

Following much research over the Winter and key advice from practical scientists, we believe the solution is available, affordable, and easily implementable. Several Implementation Documents have been prepared and circulated to some of the key players. For the purpose of motivating the widest possible audience throughout the islands of Ireland and Britain we are now publishing these reports in the Documentation Section below. It is important to share information readily and quickly; the risk of losing this species is now much greater from lack of information (or misinformation) than it is from malicious use of information. But the locations where this plant occurs are all private and people wanting to visit should seek appropriate information first. This is needed to protect the Farmer’s interests and to avoid damage to the plant that over enthusiastic botanist/photographers can cause!

A Public Private Partnership?

We have proposed a working relationship between public conservation workers and experienced voluntary observers. There are not the resources available to survey all possible sites of this species on a professional basis every year — but that information is what we need! An excellent suggestion was made to us, in the Botanic Gardens, that local observers should monitor each suitable lake — sort of an ‘Adopt a Lake’ scheme? This would establish a continuity of local knowledge over the years and might finally establish whether the species is in retreat or merely hiding?

How would this Partnership work?


Accurately record and account for each site.

Each observer would undertake to patrol and record any Spiranthes present on the lake they were watching. (We would hope to continue watching L. Allen for many years to come!) Current data only would be recorded. Many records for Spiranthes are historical and there is confusion between past and present occurrences. This leads to the loss of a site going unrecorded!


Reporting numbers.

All observers would liaise with one another in an open fashion. Secrecy is the enemy of conservation! Even for 2013 only a small amount of precise information is available and all this from voluntary workers. The records that are available show a worrying trend downwards both in sites and plant numbers. Accurate yearly totals must be available from now on?


Protect plants and implement conservation.

Somebody active in a Spiranthes area can advise the public of the rare plants and their status. By and large we have found that most people respect this advice. The Conservation Model we are trying to adopt in Lough Allen may well work throughout the country. i.e. in the Republic a partnership between local observers, farmers, and the Dept. of Agriculture’s new support scheme, GLAS. In the North a similar partnership... It is a win/win situation for all involved. Providing information and advice is the most important task to be done. Perhaps this is best done by local people with the trust of the site owners?


What is the future?

Because of this plant’s innate ability to disappear and lie dormant for years it is said that they cannot be guaranteed in every site every year. But this may be a bit of a lazy cliché and we have found some consistency in their occurrence in L. Allen, at least in the short term. When they do flower they do need to be protected. Even with this their flowering cannot be guaranteed and this is why we set a timeline for this project of five years, from 2014 - 2019. If plants can even be accurately recorded every year throughout all of Ireland then that will be good news; if the numbers increase then that will be better news!

The known ‘Spiranthes lakes’ in the Republic of Ireland are Corrib, Cullen, Levally, and Allen. We would very much like to hear from anyone knowing of other occurrences in the Republic in 2013. Perhaps you might join in the effort to record and protect this species around your lake in years to come? They like grassy, sandy or muddy, flat shores and can be found at lake margins or around small islands. They seem to prefer a southwest facing aspect (for afternoon sun) and are always close to the water, sometimes in it! They flower from late July through August and many images can be seen on this Site and in our Promotional Pamphlet below — particularly in regard to Lough Allen.


Since November 2013, LoughAllenBasin.com has been working on a technical proposal (though not overly scientific), a Promotional Document selling the plant and the conservation ideal to local people, and a review of the GLAS scheme of the Department of Agriculture. These are all linked below:

‘Protecting a rare Orchid occuring in Lough Allen.’

“Saving a very rare plant of Lough Allen!”

GLAS — a new Agriculture Grants scheme promoting Conservation

Project Proposal

Promotional Document
(This is quite a large file so be patient. However, it does mean that photographs in it can be viewed at up to 300% to reveal much detail of the plants/habitats!)

Possible Funding method

It would be great if anyone, interested in preserving this rare plant either in Ireland or Scotland, could contact us with their insights and experience to help us maintain the stock we have both here in Lough Allen and elsewhere in Ireland.  Other sites not yet recorded (in recent years) might also be found in Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo, Donegal and other parts of the Republic of Ireland. News from Northern Ireland and Scotland would also be much appreciated as we basically face similar situations. These areas could apply the conservation methods outlined here and Farmers in those locations might also avail of similar grants if we succeed in making a test case for Spiranthes conservation under GLAS!

Main links to our Spiranthes pages are: Species Study / Specimens 2008 / History / 6yr. mapping / Portraits 2010 / World Distribution / Visiting Observers