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The Independent Online

Simon Pugh-Jones is head of physics at Writhlington School in Bath, and founder of the Writhlington Orchid project.

Simon Pugh-Jones is head of physics at Writhlington School in Bath, and founder of the Writhlington Orchid project. He started a gardening club for pupils more than 10 years ago, and through this developed one of the largest tropical orchid collections in Britain. Pugh-Jones is a judge for this year's Aventis Prizes for Science Books. He will be judging the junior prize on 12 May

What is the Writhlington project?

It was originally a business enterprise scheme, run by the pupils, in which we cultivated orchids to support the global conservation of the species. Over the last five years the scheme has expanded to benefit people globally. The project combines the best in science, horticulture and business enterprise. The students now work with the Bicton Orchid Project in Devon. The botanical gardens at Bicton had the first species of orchid and we use their seedlings to grow the flowers.

Was this a personal passion for orchids that became a professional endeavour?

I grew orchids when I was a child of 12, and remember how beautiful they were when they flowered. I recall getting books out of the library and reading about how they were associated with tropical forests and explorers, which all seemed very exciting at that age. Students will tell you all the facts concerning their own plants.

I took over the greenhouses when I started my job 15 years ago and ran a lunchtime and after-school club for the children where we raised bedding plants. Now we cultivate nothing but orchids.

What do the children learn from growing orchids?

They gain countless skills. The children from Years Seven, Eight and Nine work before school, at lunchtimes and after classes to grow the orchids. They enjoy creating something themselves, and become real experts. One of my Year 12 students is expected, along with another pupil, to become one of the leading 20 botanists of the future. The students also learn from the many people they meet through the project.

What are you planning for the future?

The trips that we have organised abroad have all been very successful. The next project that we are planning is in Sikkim in India. We intend to plant the orchids at a Buddhist monastery 8,000 feet up in the mountains and to grow them from seed.

We will take the students to India, just as we did this year to Costa Rica. It is important to protect the habitat. If we encourage our children to do this, then we enhance our chances for the future.

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