The Writhlington School Orchid Project is an enterprise project run by Writhlington School and Somerset Studio School students from Years 7 to 13 involving the laboratory propagation of orchids from seed, the cultivation of those orchids in a school greenhouse and the sale of seedlings and plants to the public across the UK.
The income generated is used to fund student expeditions to Rwanda, Laos, Sikkim and other biodiverse tropical habitats to initiate and support the development of sustainable community enterprise, conservation and education in line with the aims of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The project also offers valuable experiences and opportunities for both the Writhlington students involved and their overseas partners.
Our propagation laboratory is a hive of activity. Every school day, students are involved in raising orchids from seed in vitro. The work includes making growing media, sowing seed, replanting seedlings to give them more space and fresh media and carrying out scientific investigations to improve our methods. The work is done by volunteer students before school starts, at break, at lunch and after school as well as by science students as part of their GCSEs, A levels or project-based learning.
We have 240 square metres of orchid heaven. Our greenhouse is divided into six sections, each of which is 3 metres x 10 metres and provides a geographic climate zone to suit a section of our orchid collection. Five of the sections – Warm Asia, Cool Asia, Warm Americas, Cool Americas and Temperate – have temperatures, light levels and watering regimes that reflect the habitats we have explored in our overseas expeditions and allow us to grow over 1,000 different orchid species successfully at school. A sixth section is a work and sales area, but it is inevitably also full of orchids suited to its particular climate.
Each year we take part in a number of shows, where we exhibit our orchid species and sell plants to fund the project. A group of students are given the task of designing and building the displays for each show. All the plants at shows are grown by students at school. We do not have to buy in plants for display. After 25 years of continuous good growing at school by successive generations of students, we have many of the UK’s largest orchid specimens. Students develop innovative approaches to displaying them, including the use of new interactive technologies.
Since the year 2000, 14 overseas expeditions have taken students across the tropical world to explore remote forests, work with schools, colleges, communities and conservation charities, learn about orchids in their habitats, share skills and approaches and set up propagation facilities for education and conservation.
Read about our work in Rwanda to learn more about expeditions.
The Orchid Project and our partner scientists provide outstanding opportunities for original research. All A-level applied science students carry out research linked to our partner scientists at the Jodrell Laboratory in Kew. Research provides project-based learning for Somerset Studio School students, and younger students regularly carry out independent research projects too. National prizes won include the National Science and Engineering Prize in 2014, the Society of Biology Prize in 2012 and the National Science and Engineering European Prize 2001.
To learn more about the Writhlington Orchid Project please visit its website at www.wsbeorchids.org