A long time ago, when I was a boy, my friends and I collected butterflies. We also collected eggs and caterpillars and bred some perfect specimens for our collections. But most excitement came from discovering rare or unusual butterflies in the wild. That excitement, coupled with an appreciation of the sheer beauty of butterflies, has always been with me.
In 2003 I decided to try to photograph all the British butterfly species. Although it had been a lifetime interest, there were still many butterflies that I had never seen. There would be no timetable, my wife and I would just arrange our holidays to visit parts of Britain where we had never been before and we would try to find butterflies wherever we went. But I soon discovered that, for many species, finding where to look was more of a challenge than I had expected. Although there was plenty of general information, there was very little precise guidance about where to look.
So from a casual beginning in 2003, I began to research where to go and worked out an itinerary. Then, during 2004, the idea of a book emerged and a contract with WildGuides followed and this led to a commitment and a more serious timetable. But we were enjoying our visits and the huge excitement of finding new butterfly species for ourselves. By the beginning 2005, only a dozen species remained to be found (and photographed). Although this doesn't sound many, to find them still needed a great deal of activity between May and July 2005 because most of the remaining species were the difficult ones!
My advice to anyone who should consider repeating this adventure, is take your time. Do it at leisure when your holiday plans or business travel allows. Don't rush, and don't be too disappointed when it rains, or the wind blows, while the weather forecast still says "sunny and warm".
I hope to have given you some appreciation of what these good butterfly places are like so that you can decide whether you would like to visit them. Some are worth travelling miles for. Some are national parks with all the facilities that these provide. Others are just small oases where specialist butterfly hunters may find a rare species, with no facilities and barely somewhere to park a car.
In the book, I have tried to transmit some of the excitement of discovering rare species in the wild, while not disguising the problems that may occur. So take time to plan your trips carefully. When you are there, seek the advice of park rangers or wardens or fellow butterfly enthusiasts, because every year may be different from the last. Above all, wait for good weather. The key is sunshine. Without it you are unlikely to succeed. With it, you will have the reward of seeing beautiful insects in wonderful parts of Britain. And do please email your findings (or lack of them) and I will add these to this website to guide other people.
Good luck and enjoy yourself!