In light of the lack of precise habitat definitions for many terrestrial orchid species, it was the overall aim of this study to gain a more accurate and quantitative understanding of the factors that determine orchid occurrence and to demonstrate how these data could be used to inform orchid conservation. We have developed a novel approach to ecological research and conservation strategy development that, if adopted, could facilitate empirically-based conservation projects that are more easily and effectively implemented by non-specialist conservation practitioners at a local level. Our approach integrates two techniques that are increasingly being used in ecological research and conservation biology and which have great potential to facilitate targeted and applicable studies of this type. The first is GIS, which has recently emerged as a powerful tool for studying landscape ecology and for developing conservation strategy at a landscape level. The second is the data analysis technique of Classification and Regression Tree Analysis (CART). Our method integrates the power of GIS and CART analysis to characterise the determinants of orchid dispersion and the combination of these factors that represent ‘good’ or potential habitat for the species.