Fragile orchids from West Country school flourishing
Fragile orchids propagated at a West Country school are helping save plants in the wild, and produce vital income for communities around the world.
The success of the Writhlington School orchid project in Radstock is an extraordinary example of education sending out tendrils in unexpected directions.
Pupils are not only learning laboratory skills, but discovering other cultures, and business skills.
The Indian Himalayan state of Sikkim, Laos in South East Asia, South Africa, and now Rwanda, are just some of the countries to benefit from lessons learned in the school’s laboratory and greenhouses.
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And next month the school plays host to an international gathering of orchid experts when the British Orchid Congress holds its triennial meeting and show at the school. The school will open its doors to the public on October 26 when the national orchid show takes place. It will feature 20 specialist orchid traders from Europe, displays by 25 Orchid Societies across the UK, and the pioneering work of the school project.
Teacher Simon Pugh-Jones founded the project which has been running for more than 20 years. Collecting plants from the wild for the global trade in orchids is endangering not only the species themselves, but in some instances the landscape in which they grow. The school propagates seed from plants that originated in the wild, grows them on in its impressive greenhouses and passes on vital techniques to communities, to give them sustainable crops. Selling the thousands of plants it produces provides an income to help it continue its work.
Some students have travelled to the communities they are helping.
The Royal Society has provided it with some grant aid in the past, and experts at Kew have also been involved.
Mr Pugh-Jones said: “We have set up a laboratory in a school in Cape Town, South Africa, and we are working with six secondary schools in the Himalayan city of Gangtok in Sikkim. Other projects include a community micropropagation project in Laos and initiatives in Guatemala and Belize.”
The project has become a global model for community science-based conservation and pupils have won prizes at national and international orchid competitions. In May 2010 the school won its second Gold Medal at the Chelsea Flower Show for an exhibit featuring students’ conservation work in the Himalayas and orchids grown from seed.
Next month’s event will also feature on BBC TV. Gardening expert Monty Don first visited the project in 2004 describing it as “The most extraordinary and ambitious project I have seen” and he will use the Congress event as a platform to show viewers how much the project has grown.”
Students will be running workshops at the Congress and giving tips on orchid propagation and care.
The congress is open from 6pm on October 26 for a special preview evening, from 9am until 5pm on October 27 and 10am until 4pm on October 28. More information can be found at www.wsbeorchids.org