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


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."

A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsSchool leaver's pic YouTube video features staging of a playground gun massacre
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Robyn Lawley
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

.Mid Level VB.Net, C# Developer wanted - SURREY - £35k - £40k

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Mid Level VB...

Nuclear Project Planner: Sellafield Sites

£40000 - £55000 per annum + Car, Fuel Card, Healthcare + More: Progressive Rec...

M&E Construction Planning Manager: Surrey

£60000 - £90000 per annum + Car, Pension, Healthcare: Progressive Recruitment:...

M&E Construction Planner Solihull

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Car, Healthcare, Pensions: Progressive Recruitment...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star