Wry grins spread across our faces as a chap emerged from the wood pointing backwards and saying: “There’s dozens down there. You can’t miss them.”

A June jaunt with photographers Jim Butler and Tony Dunstan had as its target one of Britain’s rarest butterflies, known to breed in this large wood near Canterbury.

As seasoned wildlife seekers we are accustomed to receiving exciting nuggets from others like: “The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is one hundred metres along this path on the third oak tree.” Or: “The Spoonbill is on the third small pool past the big lake.” When you arrive your search target is rarely there.

Wild Things Column: The dance of a Spotted Flycatcher

So it was with a large helping of scepticism that we absorbed our fellow walker’s information that lots of Heath Fritillaries were flying a few hundred yards from the car park where we stood.

News Shopper:

Heath Fritillary by Jim Butler

Still, nothing ventured…so we set off along the path, avoiding deep puddles and clinging mud until we arrived at an area of sun-splashed, coppiced glades with plants and flowers including cow-wheat, food plant of the HF. A breeze-whipped brown wisp passed by. Dead leaf ? No, as we tiptoed nearer it came into focus as a Heath Fritillary. Then came another and another and soon we were surrounded. While Jim and Tony clicked away I explored behind a bramble and found another dozen.

Once almost extinct in the UK, Heath Fritillaries survive on Exmoor and in Essex as well as this Kent oasis. Their colonial existence means if you find one you will find plenty. Patrick Barkham in his magnificent book “The Butterfly Isles” described seeing at least 1,300 in these woods in 2009 but numbers vary wildly.

Wild Things Column: Crimes against nature

We were content with a haul we estimated at 70. On our return to the car park we saw three White Admirals too. Next time a stranger tells us “It’s just down there” we will take the information seriously.

SHOCK STAT: Around 76per cent of UK’s regular butterfly species have declined in the last 40 years.

TO DO: Look for beautiful Adonis Blue butterflies at Darland Banks, Gillingham, or Queendown Warren, near Hartlip. A second brood will be on the wing until early September.