ENDANGERED and legally protected orchids have been mown down, claim conservationists.

Residents are upset after they discovered the Early Spider Orchids growing at Southern Water’s covered reservoir site on Ditchling Road, Brighton, have been cut down.

The rare Early Spider Orchids, which are found on chalk grassland in southern England, are protected by schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Brenda Pollack, member of the Friends of Hollingbury and Bursted woods, said she is dismayed by the decision to mow the area.

The 50-year-old said: “I do not understand how Southern Water has allowed this to happen. They need to make sure it doesn't happen again as these are very rare plants that need the right management. They should already be aware of that. I know a number of residents that were very upset about this.”

The rare plants are known for their distinctive appearance.

The part of the flower which attracts bees resembles the abdomen of a spider.

Jess Price, conservation officer at the Sussex Wildlife Trust, said “It is unfortunate as early spider orchids are very rare. They are only really found on the south coast and even then it is in limited numbers.

“They are endangered and a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

“Their habitat is chalk grasslands and they have a three year life cycle, so nothing should be done to them until they set seed as it may upset the population.

“They are amazing plants and get their name as they look like spiders.”

She said the most prevalent population of the flowers in the county is at Birling Gap.

A Southern Water spokesman said: “We have a management plan in place to protect the orchids at our Ditchling Road site and are investigating these reports.”

According to guidelines from the Crown Prosecution Service, if an offence has been committed under the Wildlife and Countryside Act it can carry the maximum sentence of six months in prison or a £5,000 fine.