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A rare orchid has been found on Chipstead Downs for the first time by Croydon College students.

BTEC Information Technology students at the College were surveying the site as part of their Data Modelling unit when they made the discovery.

The fragrant orchid has never been recorded on site before and it is believed it grew from a dormant seed.

The students’ surveying was to collect data on the species of plants on the site to prepare a report for the Downlands Partnership to be passed on to Natural England in support of further funds to continue managing the herbland as an internationally significant species rich habitat.

Established in 1988, the Downlands Partnership provides an urban fringe countryside management service, maintaining and enhancing the local environment for biodiversity, people and wildlife.

Each year the partnership has to survey the properties they have under management, so they can report to Natural England how well they are doing and inform future processes, and the students have devised spreadsheet applications which aims to:

  • Speed up the process of data collection
  • Ensure accuracy
  • Improve presentation
  • Simplify comparison to previous years
  • Leave more time available to examine the data, and spot trends

Harry Barlow, one student on the visit, said: “I thoroughly enjoyed the trip to Chipstead Downs, despite getting bitten by insects, scratched by hawthorn bushes and the heat. It was great to learn about an internationally important habitat.”

Sean Grufferty, Grazing Officer at Surrey County Council, said, ‘It was a pleasure to have the students out, they picked up the methodology very quickly and worked very hard – one group in scorching heat, the other in sideways rain – real British weather. The work they are carrying out is essential to the long term management of rare chalk down land habitat, home to an extremely diverse community of plants and animals. Their surveys help us to know if we are getting things right and conserving this habitat for future generations to enjoy. We look forward to seeing the results!’

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