Samphire Hoe is situated 2 miles west of Dover in Kent and is the newest piece of land in the United Kingdom, created in 1997 by the evacuations of chalk marl from the creation of the Channel Tunnel.
The Channel Tunnel is a 31.35 mile railway tunnel that was created to connect England and France, it has the largest underwater section of any tunnel in the world. During construction, 4.9 million cubic metres of chalk marl was removed and put at the base of Shakespeare Cliff between Folkstone and Dover, which in turn created a remarkably rare habitat.
Now there is a 30-hectare piece of chalk grassland which is amazing for wildlife and the community. The site is a country park allowing access for the public to enjoy nature. The site is managed by White Cliffs countryside project. In 2019 the site received a green flag award for the 14th year running, recognising that it has achieved the national standard for parks and green places in England and Wales.
Samphire Hoe is also a ‘Site of Special Scientific Importance (SSSI)’ because it’s a rare habitat, but also for the 200 species of plants that can be found, one of which is the rare Early Spider Orchid (Ophrys sphegodes).
What is the Early Spider Orchid?
The Early Spider Orchid is mainly found on the south coast and is restricted to parts of Dorset, Kent, Hampshire and Sussex. It prefers areas by the sea and can be found on short grazed turf. It’s one of the first orchids to flower in the UK, flowering between March and April.
They can grow up to 20cm in the UK (and can grow larger in warmer climates) and each specimen can produce between 2-18 flowers. Colonies can vary – for example, areas where the orchid is found in Dorset or Sussex may only produce 2-7 flowers, whereas the colony on Samphire Hoe has had up to 17 flowers on a single stem. The flowers have green-yellow petals with dark red brown lips.
Wherever the Early Spider Orchid occurs, although rare, they can stand hundreds of plants. It can self-pollinate, although most pollination is carried out by pollinators. One of which is the male solitary bee which will try and mate with the orchid. In the process it collects pollen on its head.
Keltbray Rail and Samphire Hoe
In early June, work on replacing the fence along the railway commenced by Keltbray Rail on Samphire Hoe. Incidentally, the site where work was carried out was close to a colony of Early Spider Orchids.
Before any physical work commenced, the Keltbray ecologist carried out a field survey to assess the site for any potential legally protected or priority species being present. From the information that they gathered from the field survey and a desk data survey, they implemented a specific method of working to reduce and prevent any disturbance or damage to the site.
The park ranger from the site also showed staff where the orchids were, so that the work carried out wouldn’t disturb or damage them. The area of the orchids was also fenced off so that they weren’t forgotten when the work got started. During the time of work, the countryside park was closed off to the public and staff were instructed to stay within the working area and not venture out on site.
Keltbray would like to say a huge well done to the project teams on site for being so conscientious, and going above and beyond to safeguard the natural environment and protect this rare species.