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Between mid-May and mid-June several fields on Guernsey's west coast are a riot of colour and orchid blooms. The Bridget Ozanne Orchid Fields Nature Reserve is maintained by La Société Guernesiaise, and consists of a number of fields and meadows that are left to wildflower through the spring and summer, allowing several varieties of orchid to flower.
Orchids are an enormous family of flowering plants, characterised by delicate, colourful and bilaterally symmetric blooms and an often pleasant fragrance that are widely distributed around the planet - there are around 28,000 recognised species, which is twice the number of bird species and four times the number of mammal species! Whilst you won't find those sorts of numbers in the orchid fields of L'Eree, they are a haven for these delicate flowers and offer an opportunity to view four different species as well as their hybrids and numerous wildflowers in a natural setting.
La Société Guernesiaise owns or leases a total of thirteen meadows in this area, all of which are former fields that have been managed traditionally since the end of World War Two. Whilst other fields were developed or farmed commercially using artificial fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides, those within the nature reserve have not been ploughed in over sixty years meaning that they have retained their original flora. Sitting at sea level near to water courses these fields are too wet to have ever been of use growing crops and could only be used for grazing cattle during the late summer and autumn, so were historically cut for hay in summer when dry enough and after most of the wildflowers had set seed. Members of La Société Guernesiaise continue to manage the land by cutting hay and occasionally allowing cows to graze the land, although when that doesn't happen they have to cut the poisonous Hemlock Water Dropwort by hand as this would normally be kept in check by the cows' hooves.
The L'Eree orchid fields are situated several fields back from the Route de Rocquaine coast road, roughly half way between Fort Grey to the south and L'Eree Headland to the north. Whilst in bloom, La Société Guernesiaise place small green signboards on the main road to point visitors in the right direction, usually from the small traffic triangle and post box at the Rue du Douit du Moulin. From here, proceed past the houses and small water pumping sub-station to the junction with Rue des Vicheris, around which there are usually three to four fields given over to orchids and wild flowers, indicated by the pathways cut around the sides of the fields to allow visitors to walk around the perimeter to view and photograph the flowers. It is possible to include a visit to the L'Eree orchid fields in a circular west coast walk that takes in the bucolic lanes of La Pomare (Guernsey Walker details a lovely one hour and fifteen minute circuit here), or include a visit as part of a day visiting the beaches of the west coast - perhaps on your way home in the evening as the sunlight is starting to soften.
The Bridget Ozanne Orchid Fields Nature Reserve can be found in the Perry's Reference Guide P20 B3 & C3, and is just off the 91 and 111 bus routes.