One of Northern Ireland's rarest flowers has been found at a new site close to Lough Neagh.
A single lady's tresses orchid was spotted earlier this year at the 'hare field' at Portmore Lough – and this summer has proved to be a bumper one for the rare plant. Although the orchid is found at only a handful of sites in Northern Ireland, these account for around a third of the plant's UK population and it isn't found anywhere on the continent of Europe, although it is widespread in North America.
The RSPB, which has reported finding the flower at one of its reserves near Lough Neagh, says it is one of Northern Ireland's most eye-catching and rarest plants, with spirals of small white flowers resembling the braided hair of a beautiful maiden.
Until this summer, the wet grassland along the western shore of Lough Beg near Toomebridge was one of just a handful of sites where the orchid grows, the conservation group said.
However, when out surveying at the RSPB's Portmore Lough reserve near Aghalee in late July, trainee ecologist Anne Guichard spotted a single orchid in the area. Since then, Irish lady's tresses have been blooming in large numbers at both Lough Beg and Portmore, with more than 400 spikes recorded to date across both sites.
Irish lady's tresses flourish on wet, grazed meadows which regularly flood. Portmore Lough warden Amy Burns said: "We were thrilled to find this beautiful plant on our site.
"Irish lady's tresses are a UK priority species and Northern Ireland has about one-third of the total UK population so it's vital that the places where the orchid is found are protected."