A plant not seen on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal for a quarter of a century survived an 11th hour scare before finding a watery new home in Mossley.
And the Correspondent can reveal a twin brother is alive and well in Somerset in case the rare specimen doesn’t take to its new surroundings.
Dr Bob Gough has nurtured the unspectacular looking Royal Fern in the back garden of his Failsworth home for 25 years.
Now thanks to the Canal and River Trust plus volunteers from Street Scene, Greenfield, ‘Osmundia Regalis’ has been re-planted.
But as staff, volunteers and media gathered for the big moment disaster almost struck as Dr Gough accidentally broke one of the slender fronds!
“It caught on my jumper,” he revealed. “Thankfully though there are six or seven other fertile fronds.
“I actually thought I had lost it last year. I was away for a long weekend and there had been a bit of a drought.
“When I got home the fern had been burned almost to the ground.
“All the leaves on the fronds had turned brown and all died. Yet this Spring new fronds appeared, all alive within the mass.”
However, the Royal Fern is a fussy fern. There are a few specimens on the Leeds to Liverpool canal at Rochdale but none at all between Ashton and Huddersfield…. until now.
“Let’s hope it does well here,” said Dr Gough.
“The more common varieties have less requirements. But the Royal Fern is very particular where it decides to grow and getting the right conditions is the problem.
“I guess it is all down to drainage and the availability of sunlight. So our hope is where we have put it will be happy. Then again it’s been in a tub for 25 years.”
Dr Gough’s ‘baby’ originally lived on the canal close to the centre of Huddersfield.
“It was growing out of a wash wall but due to some restoration work going on I realised that had been uprooted and was floating in the canal.
“I recognised it as Royal Fern because it is so distinctive so I fished it out.
“I thought it should really go back but once the wash wall was repaired there wasn’t really space for it.
“I decided to hang onto it with a view to reintroducing it. But time went by and I just kept it alive.
“Eventually, I mentioned the general history of it to Tom King, the ecologist at the Canal and River Trust, and he decided it would be great to put it back as part of their Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) project.
“And I am happy for it to come back because technically it shouldn’t be in my yard.”
Wisely, given its rarity and fussiness over habitat, Dr Gough didn’t take anything for granted.
“There is another plant,” he confirmed. “I split this many years ago with that intention and it is safe and well down in Somerset by a pond.
“If there is any genetic uniqueness to it, there is another specimen existing.”
There are currently no other known examples of Royal Ferns on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal. Six miles of the canal are protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
The re-planting of the Royal Fern, Osmundia regalis, is part of the Canal & River Trust’s wider 12 month project, Making Special Places for Nature, funded by a £350,000 award from players of the People’s Postcode Lottery.
This involves improving vulnerable wildlife waterway habitats across 10 key sites totalling 400 hectares – a combined area greater than the City of London.
The project spans reservoirs and canals in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Greater Manchester, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Berkshire and mid Wales, and will benefit water shrews, voles, otters, bats, dragonflies and other rare fauna and flora.