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North Merseyside Biodiversity Action Plan
Dune Helleborine Epipactis dunensis
1 Current status
The Dune Helleborine has recently been upgraded to a full species from a sub-species of Epipactis leptochila. It is a nationally rare, endemic taxon for which Britain has an international responsibility. Dune Helleborine is largely confined to sand-dunes in Northwest England and North Wales. Similar plants from inland sites in Northumberland and Scotland are now thought to belong to a different taxon. Because of taxonomic uncertainties, The Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain (Cheffings & Farrell, 2005) treats Dune Helleborine as “Data Deficient”. It is a Priority Species in the UK BAP on account of its endemic status.
In North Merseyside the Dune Helleborine is confined to the Sefton Coast sanddunes. Travis's Flora of South Lancashire (1963) describes it as "Occasional, locally common ... in open, moist hollows in the dunes at the edge of pine plantations". This is still the case. P.S. Gateley recorded 870 spikes in 1988 and 1911 in 1992 during partial surveys of the dune system. The largest numbers of plants in both years were found in Ainsdale Sand Dunes NNR, the northern and southern extremities of the dune system having few plants. Gateley found that 21% of spikes occurred in pine plantations, while 53% were associated with Creeping Willow Salix repens. The plant avoided Marram Ammophila arenaria-dominated dunes and heavily vegetated fixed-dune pastures but seemed well adapted to disturbance, being often found in areas cleared of conifers, along fence
lines and the edges of footpaths. A large population is now known to occur in the frontal woodlands of Ainsdale NNR. Over 200 spikes were counted in 2007 in the Lifeboat Road woodlands. Small additional colonies have been located at Freshfield Dune Heath Nature Reserve and Altcar Rifle Range.
English Nature carried out a survey of Dune and Green-flowered Helleborine in Ainsdale NNR in 2002 at 130 randomly generated points, but statistical problems associated with small sample sizes prevented rigorous analysis of the results.