Ben Jacob is an orchid thief. He spends his life (and risks prison) tracking down rare orchids and rescuing them from unwitting destruction on the building sites and greenbelt developments of Britain. This is his story.
Ben fell in love with orchids as a nine-year-old, when his parents bought him a Cymbidium. That love then led him to spend his twenties in various tropical cities, teaching English and exploring jungles where exotic orchid species grew wild, pollinated by hummingbirds, huge moths and more. After a decade abroad, Ben returned to the UK. Here, his passion re-ignited when he encountered a colony of Bee orchids, a cryptic species which tricks bees into mating with its flowers. Ben was entranced. Having long seen Britain’s orchids as pale imitations of their tropical cousins, he changed his mind completely and set out to find and photograph all fifty-one British species.
Reading and learning everything he could, Ben realised that Britain’s orchids are in desperate trouble. Some, such as Summer’s Lady Tresses, have gone extinct; others, such as the magnificently strange Ghost Orchid, have not been seen since 2009; all have experienced vertiginous declines. Changes in land use and climate are responsible, but so too are Britain’s outdated environmental and planning laws, which seem incapable of protecting rare species in the face of the drive to build new homes and infrastructure.
That’s how Ben turned outlaw. He began saving orchids slated for destruction, digging them out in the middle of the night and replanting them in safe places, all this while knowing that the work he was doing was illegal, for if arrested Ben could have been fined GBP5,000 for each wild orchid plant he saved, and he might even have faced prison.
Part memoir, part fascinating history of our most exotic and yet overlooked flower, this is nature writing with a real story. Ben shares with us his mission, and raises urgent questions about our environmental legislation.