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Last Updated: Monday, 26 June 2006, 07:03 GMT 08:03 UK
Project to reverse orchid decline
Lesser butterfly orchid
The lesser butterfly orchid grows in fields and woodland edges
A national search has begun for a wild orchid that was once widespread in Scotland to prevent its extinction.

The lesser butterfly orchid, which has several creamy-white and green flowers on each stem, has declined by more than 30% throughout Britain since the 1960s.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is urging the public to take part in the survey, to help build a picture of where the delicate orchid still exists.

Ploughing, draining fields and chemical use may have caused its decline.

The plant is among 23 species highlighted by SNH as a priority for conservation action in the public consultation Scotland's Species: A framework for Action, which ends on 30 June.

SNH botanist Lynne Farrell said the result of the orchid survey would help target conservation work.

"The lesser butterfly orchid used to be a fairly common sight in fields and on woodland edges," she said.

"I remember seeing it in heathery patches and on roadside verges in Argyll just a few years ago but now it seems to have vanished from many areas."

People could really help us to build up an understanding of what is happening to this increasingly rare plant
Jim McIntosh

SNH has teamed up with the charity Plantlife and the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI) for the project.

Jim McIntosh, of the BSBI, said the orchid could be experiencing one of the fastest declines of plant species in Scotland.

He said: "We don't have accurate information about numbers of this orchid in the country, but we do know that records of it within monitored 10km square areas have declined significantly in the last 40 years.

"People could really help us to build up an understanding of what is happening to this increasingly rare plant."

Trevor Dines of Plantlife said: "While we have been good at saving some of our rarest species, it appears that many widespread plants, like this orchid, have suffered.

"It would be a tragedy if this loss continued when simple changes to management could save it for future generations."

To take part in the survey contact Lynne Farrell at SNH or visit www.snh.org.uk/orchid.

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