From orchids and moths to hedgehogs and toads, our wildflowers and wildlife are dying out. Making the meadows safe again is a huge challenge – but there are glimmers of hope

In June 2011 I took a long drive up the A1, the Great North Road. At Scotch Corner I turned for Barnard Castle. The villages were well kept, the countryside was green, the fields dotted with sheep. Everything was normal. Or so I thought.

Beyond Barnard Castle I took a narrow lane into part of Upper Teesdale and suddenly colours exploded along the roadside. I stopped the car and jumped out. There was a bed of orchids, hundreds of them, and behind that, billowing banks of violet, scarlet, white, yellow and cornflower blue. I had seen alpine meadows, but this took my breath away. Further into the dale I found a footpath that led me down beside a shady brook. There were more orchids of a different species and a grass snake hunting frogs in a pool. Out in the open again, there was the haunting cry of curlews overhead, then redshanks, plovers and snipe.

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