Flashback – the orchids that nearly stopped our project

We’ve at last got round to building the garage – which reminds me about the great orchid crisis of 2008. What triggered the flashback was that we’ve just spent a week digging up all the turf on the site of the garage and ferrying it in wheelbarrows to the other side of the garden. The turf is packed with orchids.

It was this issue, looking after the orchids, that brought our original project to a halt for nearly half a year in 2008 because our planning permission required us to pay for a survey to check whether rare orchids were present on the site.

We hired an ecology consultant who spent a day examining the ground and concluded we had three rare species of plants among the 40 he identified: bee orchids, pyramid orchids and adders tongue fern.

He recommended to the council that we agree an orchid management plan in which we select a site elsewhere, move the turf to it and secure an agreement with the owners that the new site would be managed to look after the orchids for 5 years.

This was ridiculously elaborate and almost impossible to set up in practice. In any case, orchids in bloom were one of the reasons we wanted to buy the property in the first place, so we were already determined to protect them.

At the cost of some considerable delay we argued our way out of the orchid management plan and the council eventually dropped the idea – thank heavens they didn’t notice our newts and bats! We did assure the council, though it was not a formal obligation, that we were keen on preserving the orchids, which grow over a much wider area than the garage site.

Since those days we have reclaimed a swampy space at the end of the pond, and orchids have begun to appear there naturally, migrating from the meadow. So that’s where the turf is being relaid.

We have delayed a long time, but our 2008 planning permission for the garage is still valid because it is part of a larger project. This year we applied for and won permission to adapt it somewhat, adding two windows and a third door, which makes it look more like a farm building than a plain garage. By the time the orchids bloom again we hope to have it completed.

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