Beach huts and Pyramids

The one about a special orchid count in Scarborough.

#30DaysWild Day 26

Today between 10 and 3.45 I was to be found within tennis-ball-lobbing distance of Scarborough’s North Beach. I know this because I found a stray ball and chucked it down in the hope its owner could better find it down there than on the steep skittery scree of what we call The Orchid Terrace. This seafront cliff slope is enclosed by a post and wire fence, more for keeping casual visitors off it than for inclusion or exclusion of any grazing animals (domestic or otherwise). It marks out a long rectangle some twelve to fifteen metres wide by about 175m long, running parallel to but above the rooftops of the colourful wooden beach huts.

People can pass by it without ever suspecting the spectacular show of wildflowers just a shout away from the beach, and many do! In some ways one is thankful that the steepness and apparent inaccessibility keep this site from being trampled, though the evidence of occasional litter, bottles etc. attest to the fact that some people do spend time there, though maybe not to appreciate the flora, bees and butterflies.

I was busy carrying out a full count (not a sample) which has been done by a dedicated local naturalist, Mr Peter Robinson for the last 12 years or so and quantifies the total number of orchid flower spikes of three species within this enclosure. They are Pyramidal, Common Spotted and Bee orchid. The first is usually the most numerous and this year spectacularly so, hence the title of this post.

We have counts every year showing he remarkable fluctuations in number from one season to the next. The total will run into several thousand. I had to dash to catch my bus, but will update this post when I find out the final tally from his recording sheet. We did 80 transects of about two metres width, marked out with string and the peak number on any single transects was 127 if I recall. Typically more like 50 per transect, so I’m expecting a final tally around four to five thousand.

I’m pretty impressed that Peter and I between us managed to complete the count in one day. My calves will tell the tale in the morning as the steep slope and all that setting out string lines makes for a lot of climbing up and down. In between I did manage to sneak some pictures, and they tell the beauty of the site better than I can describe it.

 

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Post Script – 3/7/17 Final count update

Last week I had a bus to catch so I dashed off without seeing the final tally. Peter Robinson called into the office this week and left me with a copy of the results table. Final counts for 2017 are: 68 Bee orchids, 971 Common Spotted orchid, 6198 Pyramidal orchids, making a grand total of all species of 7237 flower spikes, up considerably on the three and a half thousand counted last year! The increase is made up mostly of Pyramidal which last year numbered 2890, so more than double. Compare this with the best of recent counts for Bee Orchids, indeed all species in 2014 when 319 Bee, 1350 Common and 10324 Pyramid contributed to a record total just shy of twelve thousand.

Incidentally the dataset makes for a fascinating study, if anyone cares to analyse it for us, of the waxing and waning fortunes of orchids on a single site. Tantalisingly in 2003, only the second year Peter counted (and in those early days just the Bee orchids), there were 950 Ophrys apifera, but a good year for Bee orchid is not always a good year for Pyramidal. Peter’s records also include a one time survey of the associated flora and would be interesting to see if the other species relate to the fortunes of the Orchidaceae.

So if this stuff is right up your alley and you fancy doing some botanical fieldwork for us, please get in touch.

Author: Tim Burkinshaw

I work in ecology and biodiversity in North Yorkshire. I'm often found outdoors snapping nature and landscapes or spotting birds. Always aspiring to be a better naturalist, but I have a particular thing for wetlands. As a gardener I enjoy having my hands in the earth, and getting the perfect mix of greens and browns in my compost! As a Daddy I'm somewhere between pretty good and awesome. On a good day. If you spot me and my hat in real life or on social media do say hello!

6 thoughts on “Beach huts and Pyramids”

  1. Not so very helpful when I asked about the Bee Orchids but suppose my face didn’t fit. Great show of the other Orchids though.

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    1. Ian, was it you we met on site when measuring out the transect markers? I had not located any of this year’s Bee Orchids at that point. We carried out the systematic count from the northern end on 26th June. I think the first cluster were not encountered until transect 30 or so. Last year was a much better year for the ‘Bees’ and my best photos came from those just outside the northern end of the fenced terrace area. It certainly has been a great year for Pyramidal.

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      1. Hi Tim,
        Yes it was, sorry hope I wasn’t too rude, it was just that I am so wanting to see and photograph some Bee Orchids.
        Best regards.
        Ian

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