Published: 10:42, 03 August 2021
| Updated: 15:45, 03 August 2021
A rare orchid has been found flowering again for the first time in 100 years after a cluster was discovered alongside the high speed trainline.
The flowering lizard orchid plants were discovered on the HS1 line on the section between Chatham and Bromley.
The flowers were first recorded in the Dartford area a century ago and a single plant spike was spotted in 2019 but died out last year.
But six plants have now returned along with 70 spikes of another rare species called White Mullein, which were discovered by amateur botanist David Steere.
He said: "As an amateur botanist, I know my wildflowers well and have been recording vascular plants all over Kent for a number of years.
"After coming across a flowering Lizard Orchid spike in 2019, which sadly wilted and died off, I was amazed at the discovery of six Lizard Orchids in July.
“The HS1 line has made some amazing habitats for chalk grassland plants possible, and I look forward to working with HS1 and Network Rail on supporting and maintaining these precious flowers."
The Lizard Orchid (Himantoglossum hircinum) takes its name from the appearance of the flower due to its grey and green coloured bloom and ragged side lobes which give the impression of the legs and tail of a lizard climbing.
Experts had feared the plant – first spotted between Crayford and Dartford in 1641 – was now extinct in the area.
It has been found more recently in the Sandwich Bay area but is regarded nationally scarce and protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as a near threatened species in the UK.
The chalk grassland and climate in Kent is well suited to the flower and are often found on railway embankments and dunes.
Along with the White Mullein and Lizard Orchid, there are five other rare plants including Field Mouse-ear, Common Rockrose and Wild Strawberry growing on the site.
The line previously used by Eurostar is now run by Network Rail and Southeastern sits within an area where HS1 wants to increase biodiversity by 20%.
Now the orchids have been found, they will be monitored and cordoned off in a one-metre radius and maintained to give the best protection and chance of thriving.
Dyan Crowther, chief executive of HS1 Ltd, said: "The discovery of six Lizard Orchids in an area not historically known for them is fantastic, and a sign of positive biodiversity growth along the HS1 line.
"We have laid out a number of commitments in our Sustainability Strategy, including taking strides to become fully carbon neutral within a decade and reducing the carbon footprint of every passenger by 25%.
"As part of this, we’ll also be assessing and maintaining the quality of our lineside habitats – which means keeping a close eye on the orchids to help them establish themselves in this environment."