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The Orchid Outlaw

The Wainwright Prize, 2023

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Audiobook Downloadable / ISBN-13: 9781399802307

Price: £24.99

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The fascinating story of one man’s mission to track down and rescue rare orchids from destruction on the building sites of Britain.

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 Changes in land use and climate are responsible, but so too are Britain’s outdated environmental and planning laws, which seem incapable of protecting rare species in the face of the drive to build new homes and infrastructure.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 £5,000 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.

The world needs more Bens.

(P) 2023 Hodder & Stoughton Limited


The Orchid Outlaw . . . offers captivating descriptions of pre-dawn forays on to private land where housing developments will soon obliterate colonies of precious orchids
Financial Times, Best new books on climate and the environment
The book is written with a skip and drama, and will leave you furious that these strange and delicate plants have been so neglected
Mail on Sunday
A brave, timely and inspiring example of how to exercise our moral obligation to care for the non-human beings we share the world with. The Orchid Outlaw is an empowering tonic to the environmental despair evoked by the lack of leadership from our lawmakers
Leif Bersweden, author of Where the Wild Flowers Grow
It's noble work in a time of great change. The Orchid Outlaw urges us to look closer and tread more carefully
Alice Vincent, New Statesman
If this doesn't turn into one of the most talked about nature books of the year, I'll eat my hat. Brilliantly written, urgent and brave
Lee Schofield, author of WILD FELL
A vivid love letter to Britain's wild orchids . . . Ben Jacob breaks all the rules with enormous success
A daring, delightful and galvanising call to save the world, one plant at a time
The Bookseller, Editor’s Choice