WILDLIFE enthusiasts say they are “devastated” after contractors dug up a protected verge of rare flowers in the Yorkshire Wolds.
East Riding Council stepped in to call a halt to the work yesterday after contractors Morrison Utility Services, working on behalf of Yorkshire Water, were discovered digging up the verge at Wayrham picnic site near Huggate.
But naturalists fear it is already too late, claiming that a 4ft trench, 140 yards long, had been dug through the middle of the site.
The area is a locally designated verge nature reserve and thought to be one of the best places in the county to see wild orchids. Campaigners say it is so valuable that its location is not advertised to protect it from rare plant hunters.
A sign erected at the site by workmen reads: “Short term disruption, long term benefits.”
Wildlife artist Robert Fuller, who lives nearby, said: “It is a magical place and I just cannot believe that this has been allowed to happen.”
Among the species of orchid present are common marsh orchids, pyramidal, and common spotted orchids.
Caroline Comins, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s conservation programme manager, said: “This is devastating news for Yorkshire’s wildlife as this is one of the best and most visible wildflower sites in the county.
“The spectacle of orchids here is simply stunning and to think that it has been carelessly destroyed is tragic. So much wildlife has been lost in our landscape and it is this continual erosion that makes many species so vulnerable.
“It is sad that tens of thousands of passers-by who will have enjoyed this swathe of pink next to the road will now be denied this rare and beautiful sight.”
The work is part of a £6.6m scheme to upgrade 30 miles of water mains. A spokeswoman for Yorkshire Water said: “Before starting the work we undertook the regular ecological checks and informed the council of the plans. These checks did not show the verge as being protected at the time and work began on site. As soon as we were made aware of the site’s significance, work stopped immediately.”