July 2011. In recent years, Lesser Butterfly-orchid has been recorded from just three sites in the Cairngorms National Park, all in the Aviemore – Boat of Garten – Nethy Bridge area. Although one of these sites is among the largest in Scotland, with several thousand plants, the other two are relatively small.
Thanks to reports from local botanists, 3 additional sites were added to the list of sites for the Park last summer, all in the Aviemore area, but each of them consisted of only 1 or 2 plants. Despite considerable time spent searching last season for historical records near Nethy Bridge, Kincraig and Newtonmore the orchid wasn’t re-found at any of these sites.
This year search efforts have focussed on historical records in different areas of the Park, including a site near Tomintoul plus sites in Glen Tilt and Glen Fender in the very south of the Park. Unfortunately, Lesser Butterfly-orchid couldn’t be re-found at any of these sites.
These findings indicate that Lesser Butterfly-orchid has undergone a considerable recent decline in the Cairngorms National Park which is consistent with trends at the national level. So, why should this be the case?
Lesser Butterfly-orchid occurs in unimproved grassland, heathland and woodland edge habitats but appears to have a particular requirement for a short, open sward with the best sites in Scotland being seasonally grazed or cut. Inappropriate grazing management is a major cause of decline with both under-grazing, leading to the build-up of rank grasses and in some cases reversion to birch scrub, and over-grazing during late spring and summer, leading to the grazing-off of leaves and flowering spikes, ultimately resulting in the loss of this species from a site over time.
Improvement of grasslands to increase their productivity, i.e. through drainage, ploughing and re-seeding, and applications of fertiliser and herbicide, causing irreversible changes to grassland habitats is another key cause of decline. Due to widespread agricultural improvement, unimproved species-rich grasslands are now much more restricted in their extent than they were in the past and the case to conserve them has never been stronger.