Britain's rarest flower given round-the-clock police protection

A A A

It is the sort of police operation reserved for the highest-profile VIPs. Patrols have been stepped up around the subject's place of residence and covert CCTV is being considered. The potential target has also been security tagged to protect against abduction.

What is all the more remarkable is that this treatment, normally kept for visiting dignitaries of a foreign state or perhaps a Cabinet minister, is being rolled out for a single delicate plant on a Lancashire golf course

What makes this specimen so precious is that it is one of the few examples of Britain's rarest flower.

A Lady's Slipper orchid, whose name is inspired by its distinctive shoe-shaped flower, is now the subject of strict security by Lancashire Constabulary after it bloomed on the Silverdale Golf Course in Carnforth – making it the most sought-after plant in Britain for obsessive orchid fanciers.

The plant is strictly protected by law. Even touching one requires a special licence from Natural England. Nevertheless, cuttings from a Lady's Slipper, whose Latin name is Cypripedium calceolus, are so in demand that collectors are prepared to pay up to £5,000 for a flowering example.

Lancashire police confirmed yesterday that they had mounted an extensive operation to protect the Silverdale orchid; police tape surrounds the site and police regularly patrol the golf course on foot. Two attempts have been made in the last six years to steal or damage the plant, and it has now been security marked to ensure that anyone trying to seize a cutting can be identified.

If senior officers deem it suitable, special CCTV cameras will also be deployed around the site in the next few days to relay footage direct to police headquarters, where the orchid can be monitored around the clock.

PC Duncan Thomas, wildlife officer for Lancashire police, said: "We have been monitoring this amazing plant for a number of years and you can't help being impressed, not only by its rarity but by the incredible display when flowering. "Sadly, there are persons who will seek to steal it and we are working to ensure its continued success."

The Silverdale orchid is thought to be one of less than a dozen of the flowers now growing in the wild in Britain.

For decades, the UK population of Cypripedium calceolus, once widespread across northern England but thought to have been picked to extinction by 1917, consisted of a single plant discovered by botanists in the 1930s at a location which remains a closely guarded secret.

Such is the importance of the plant that it has its own panel of botanical experts, the Cypripedium Committee, to discuss how to protect and propagate the species. The plant is now the subject of a programme led by scientists at Kew Gardens in London to plant Lady's Slipper orchids grown from the seed of wild plants at different locations, although numbers remain extremely low.

As a result, the distinctive yellow and purple bloom is highly prized by illegal orchid collectors, who flock to known sites in May and June in the hope of snatching a flowering sample.

The Silverdale orchid was severely damaged in 2004 when a thief attempted to dig up the entire plant, with its roots. A flowering stem was also cut and stolen last year.

PC Tony Marsh, the community beat manager for Silverdalesaid: "The biggest threat is collectors. When flowers were taken last year, we think purely just to press and put in a book, the value was thousands of pounds.

"The Lady Slipper Orchid here is an incredibly important plant. It is iconic to many people who enjoy wildlife in Britain. People travel from all ends of the country on what is almost a pilgrimage to view the plant and are often overcome with emotion at the sight."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'
TVGrace Dent thinks we should learn to 'hug a Hooray Henry', because poshness is an accident of birth
News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
News
The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
news
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
film
Sport
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you have experience of B2B s...

Citifocus Ltd: German Speaking Client Specialist

£Attractive Package: Citifocus Ltd: Prestigious asset management house seeks a...

Citifocus Ltd: Performance & Risk Oversight

£Negotiable: Citifocus Ltd: This is a varied role focusing on the firm's mutua...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of Scotland's leading train...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game