e are continually bombarded with the problems that humanity has contributed to in the world: pollution, mass extinction and deforestation, to name just a few. At Writhlington School, my local secondary state school in Somerset in the United Kingdom, we have decided to take action - and work with indigenous peoples in the northeast of India to save endangered species.
Since starting at the school four years ago, I have been an avid member of its greenhouse club. It may seem normal, at first sight, for a school to grow plants, but the greenhouses at Writhlington hold a particularly special array of flora. Orchids are the single largest known family of flowering plants, with upwards of 25,000 classified species and a similar number predicted to be discovered. They grow on every continent, including Antarctica, although only a few species thrive there.
For many years the battered greenhouses at our school - a business and enterprise specialist school located outside the ancient city of Bath - contained just the usual tomatoes and cacti, until Simon Pugh-Jones, a physics teacher, took over. For the next couple of years, the greenhouses became home to a growing number of bedding plants and hanging baskets, which brought a steady income to cover the costs of repair. Eventually the orchids made their entrance in the form of a few donated hybrid cymbidiums.
Our school now grows an enormous number of orchids - from Aerangis to Zygostates, and Angraecum to Zygopetalum. For years we struggled to fill the greenhouses, but now we battle to find space for all our plants, as we grow everything we can lay our hands on.
Writhlington School has become the United Kingdom's second biggest orchid specialist propagation lab, using a nutrient agar jelly in a sterile environment. We built the lab in an unusual place - the girls' disused lavatories.
Our work is now entering its most exciting stage, setting up links with botanically vital habitats such as Costa Rica - which has one of the only rainforests in the world that is increasing in size - and Sikkim, an Indian state in the eastern Himalayas. The work in India is centred on the Labrang Monastery and school near the village of Tumlong, and links up with Mohan Predan, secretary of the Indian subcontinent regional orchid specialist group of IUCN - the World Conservation Union.
The area around Tumlong is home to many endangered species of orchids, which are under increasing threat as people continue to remove them from the wild - and there are no local projects to breed more to increase the supply.
The plan is for Mr Predan to collect wild seed from orchids nearby and send it to our school for propagation. We will send the resulting seedlings to village schools in Sikkim, where students will pot and grow the seedlings, eventually selling the matured orchid plants locally. We hope that this project will stop people from collecting orchids from the wild, as well as motivate communities to become involved with orchid conservation.
The orchids will also be sold through horticultural establishments and organizations like Kew Gardens in London. The profits from these sales will be sent to India to fund the construction of a lab there, so that the people can produce seedlings themselves.
We hope to spread this model to other parts of the world, including Brazil, Guatemala and Africa. Our goal is to create dozens of these self-sufficient orchid propagation labs to meet the world's need for orchids, and conserve these precious flowers for years to come.
Callum Swift (15)
|photos: Writhlington School|
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