This orchid was first discovered in 1840, and has always been rare in Britain, only ever having been recorded from two small areas in the New Forest (5). 200 plants were found at one site in 1900, but the population had fallen to just 20 by the start of the 1930s (5). It is thought to have become extinct by 1959 (6), and no records have been made since (5). It occurs in western, southern and central Europe, reaching east to Turkey and Russia, and is also found in North Africa (2).
Drainage of the wet, boggy habitats favoured by this orchid is likely to have played a part in its decline. Plants were also dug up for private collections, and this certainly reduced the British population (5).
The listing of this orchid under the Species and Habitats Directive means that sites supporting this species can be protected. English Nature has included summer lady's-tresses in its Species Recovery Programme; should this orchid be rediscovered in Britain, conservation action will get underway.
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