We all know orchids, of course. They have become popular to the extent one can now buy them at almost any flower shop. These orchids come from the tropics. I like them of course. This is because I am from the Netherlands, and you will find very few Dutch people who do not like flowers. There is something, however, much more rare and which I like much more: wild orchids.
Did you know that in the Belgium, in the Netherlands, in the Czech Republic, in Germany, in fact in all European countries there are wild orchids? Contrary to the big luxury ones you buy in a shop, these are mostly small and inconspicuous. Most of them, in addition, are quite rare.
They are rare because they are particular about the environment in which they will grow. I will not go into detail, but it is a fair summary to state that they need the absence of fertilisers. Places where there are no fertilisers are rare to find in Europe, as indeed most places receive too much of the stuff.
Contrary to what you might think, nature is going better and better in Europe. Authorities start to understand the need for nature conservation. Nature conservation and habitat maintenance go hand in hand. This does not always mean nature reserves. It can also mean that borders of roads are only cut at appropriate times, long before or long after orchids blossom. In addition, fertilisation of these areas is more and more avoided. This is also good for birds and mice.
More and more, edges of roads are properly managed, resulting in something that does not look like beautiful grass, but more messy to the uninstructed eye. However, properly managed road edges can be full of very interesting plants, including wild orchids. When I visited one of our customers in Normandy last year June, the edges were teaming with Anacamptis pyramidalis (picture below).
Each year, and this since many years, I go with a friend for a few days in late May or early June, hunting for wild orchids. Of course we do not pick them, we just take pictures. Some years we’re lucky, some not. This depends on how the weather has been, and it is hard to tell what the impact will have been on the local situation. This, of course, is part of the challenge and the fun.
Another thing that makes me happy is how well birds of prey are doing. Buzzards are now ubiquitous; whereas when I was 16 I was happy if I saw one in a week. I now see them daily. But this is not all: Eagles are coming. Again when I was 16, I travelled to Scotland in the hope of seeing ONE – which I did not. Two days ago, I have seen three Eagles over Podivin, I saw them in Germany in late May, and last week one was flying over Lišen, a suburb of Brno. I could not make out the species for sure. They looked like the short toed Eagle Circaetus gallicus but I am not sure as they were flying very high – which is what Eagles are wont to do! In my very street in Brno a hawk was casually flying.
Nature is shifting as it has been shifting in the past. My great-grand uncle wrote a book about birds in Holland during WW2. In those days, hooded crows Corvus cornix were apparently common – today you have to travel a thousand kilometres from Holland to see them. And you must have noted how often one now sees cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo – a bird which I never saw when I was 16. These changes therefore, are happening before our very eyes.
Newspapers and journalists in general focus on bad things. But not only bad things are happening. Some of the changes we see in nature are not good, but many of them are. In general, nature conservation in Europe is going in the right direction.
Maarten van Leeuwen
Group Managing Director
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