Search and rescue operation for Illawarra's endangered plants

An emergency services training operation in Budderoo National Park unfolded into a real-life search and rescue mission for the threatened and rarely seen waterfall greenhood orchid.

Close up of waterfall greenhood orchid (Pterostylis pulchella)

Lauren Hook, a Saving our Species ecologist, joined the canyon rescue training to access the park’s remote waterfalls where this native orchid was last seen around 7 years ago.

'This was such a perfect opportunity to get safe access into these remote canyons so we could confirm if this small green, water-loving orchid is still surviving,' said Ms Hook.

'And the results were better than we could have imagined.

'During the 10-hour expedition we saw around 300 orchids growing on mossy rocks right at the water’s edge.

'What started as search and rescue training quickly turned into a spot-the-orchid mission and by the end of the day NSW Police Rescue, SES and Ambulance crews were also coming across new, thriving orchid populations.

'One site along the canyon hosted around 55 plants, which is extraordinary when you think that only one plant was recorded there in 2015 and only one before that in 1954.

'For now the orchids are safe. We will use the location data to support the management of the canyons and to minimise threats to the plant’s survival.

'If there is an opportunity to go again next year, we will try to collect seeds and propagate the plant, another strategy to help secure this species in the wild,' said Ms Hook.

National Parks and Wildlife Service Ranger Team Leader Jen Bean said the orchid-find just shows the incredible and unique biodiversity of the Illawarra region.

'It was such a good mission for so many reasons,' said Ms Bean.

'Not only did the emergency services brush up their rescue skills, we got access into parts of the park that are normally inaccessible.

'There are species just like this orchid that are not found anywhere else in the world, and that’s what makes our local parks and reserves so precious,' Ms Bean said.

The Saving Our Species program is investing almost $100,000 into orchid conservation in the Illawarra and surrounding regions.

This funding supports experts like Lauren and Jen to commit resources towards weed control, fencing, signage, surveys, hand pollination and seed collection, all of which help secure species like the waterfall greenhood orchid into the future.

For more information on the waterfall greenhood orchid, visit the species' profile webpage.