Loneliness of the directionally challenged

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For those not involved with the Borders countryside and its wildlife TWIC probably means nothing, but it has a very important role to play in the conservation of our local flora and fauna.

It is The Wildlife Information Centre and although based in Midlothian, it is very much concerned with the Borders, having recently taken over the wildlife recording duties for our area from the office previously based at Harestanes.

TWIC is the focal point for biological recording and is working to increase our knowledge of the land, freshwater and marine wildlife throughout the Lothians and the Borders. The centre seeks to hold as comprehensive a record of the wildlife of the area as possible. It provides a wide range of data services; routinely supplying data to local authorities for screening planning applications, to consultants for preparing environmental assessments and to conservation bodies for writing management plans.

Last Sunday, I was invited along to one of their field trips to a farm near Selkirk to look for a rare plant which hadn’t been seen since the 1970s.

The coralroot orchid, pictured, top of page, was discovered there in 1895 and after a couple of appearances, not seen again until the 1970s when it was found by Dr Rod Corner, who happened to be in our group again on Sunday.

This will be a doddle, I thought. We have a chap who knows where it is and about a dozen botanists who know what they are looking for.

However, when I discovered that the plant was only a few inches tall with an insignificant white flower and lots of green on it and that nobody really knew whether it was past its flowering period or not yet out, doubts began to creep in.

The habitat where it grows is basically a woodland swamp, which added to the difficulty of the task ahead.

Led by the farm manager into the swamp, the plan was that we walked along the edge till we reached the halfway mark, strung ourselves out in a line across it and made our way back to the start. Unfortunately, I was first in, walked to the far side, turned left and started to make my way through the moss-covered ground, weaving amongst black, tadpole-filled ponds of indeterminate depth and fallen trees.

The woodland was so thick I couldn’t see the others, but later discovered that was probably due to the fact that they had all turned right and I was going in the opposite direction to everyone else. Eventually I emerged at the end of the swamp expecting to meet everyone else, but there was just an eerie silence. I eventually caught up with them and learned that the orchid had not been found, which came as no surprise.

It had been great fun and after lunch a field trip to another part of the farm had also been greatly enjoyed, where conditions underfoot were a bit drier and I managed not to get lost.