Orchid thieves have stolen a significant percentage of one of Britain’s rarest flowers.

The late spider orchid only grows at a few sites in Kent and on Friday one in Folkestone was targeted, with 30 plants plucked from the earth.

Neil Evans from Hardy Orchid Society said: “The theft represents a major loss to the population. They are only found in this country in a few sites in Kent. The local wardens do not want the site name published for obvious reasons.”

Late spider orchids, which usually flower from next month, grow to between 10 and 50cm and carry up to 10 large pink and green petalled flowers with distinctive, spider-like dark brown velvety lips.

Early on Sunday thieves struck again in east Sussex, making off with 10 burnt-tip orchids from the sprawling Glynde Estate in the South Downs near Lewes.

The species’ population has spiralled downwards over the past 50 years and it is also now considered rare.

The plant, which flowers between this month and next, is trickier to spot, with 10 to 15 white and purple flowers growing from spikes.

Mr Evans discovered the holes where the burnt-tips had once grown and reported the crime to Sussex Police.

Stealing protected flowers is a breach of both the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act and 1968 Theft Act and can result in a hefty fine and up to six months in prison.

It is not known if the two thefts are linked but orchid thefts are becoming increasingly common across the globe.

In 2019 some 3,000 plants of several orchid species were stolen from Germany’s Taubergiessen Nature Reserve on the River Rhine.

Early and late spider as well as bumblebee orchids were among the haul.

Local biologist Dietmar Keil said at the time: “It will take at least 50 years for affected varieties to recover to some extent – if they can be saved at all.”

This article was published in KentOnline 24th May 2022