Rare elm tree supporting elusive butterfly to be axed

Wednesday 28th June 2017

Chelsea Road elm tree by Paul SelbyChelsea Road elm tree by Paul Selby

A rare 120-year-old Huntingdon Elm tree on Chelsea Road in Nether Edge that has been found to support the declining white-letter hairstreak butterfly is to be felled under the Streets Ahead programme following a decision by Sheffield City Council yesterday.

Wildlife organisations, local street tree groups and local residents have been campaigning to save this particularly important tree since 2015.

The Chelsea Road elm tree is one of just four mature elm trees in Sheffield to survive the Dutch elm disease epidemic of the 1970s and therefore could possess some resistance to the disease. In 2015 Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust found that the tree was host to a colony of the white-letter hairstreak butterfly, which is a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan due to its 96% decline over the last 40 years.

Paul Selby, a local resident and member of the Save Nether Edge Trees group, led the local community in protesting against the tree’s proposed felling and also nominated it for the English Tree of the Year 2016 award, in which it finished in second place and featured on a Channel 4 documentary covering the competition.

Mr Selby has also met with Council members on three occasions and said: "I believed we had come to a tentative agreement about how the tree could be saved, at no extra cost to the Council. However, on 27th June I was told by a Council official that they had decided to fell the tree. They were unable to give me a reason why.

White-letter hairstreak butterfly by Ben Keywood

"I feel a great deal of anger and sadness at the lack of environmental understanding in this decision. I’ll keep campaigning to the very last to save the precious Chelsea Road elm tree, but I fear that its days are now very limited. I know I’ll shed many tears when it eventually is felled, as it will be akin to losing a dear friend."

Dr Nicky Rivers, Living Landscape Development Manager at Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, said: "We wrote to the Council in January 2016 after identifying the rare butterfly on the tree, highlighting how important this tree is for wildlife and offering our help with finding a solution.

"The butterflies spend their whole life cycle on the one elm tree and so the colony will be lost with felling. We had hoped a way forward would be found in order to save it, which the Council’s own advisory group – the Independent Tree Panel – had also recommended. It’s therefore very disappointing to learn that that the Panel’s advice from July last year has only just been released and with it a lack of clarity on why the advice was overruled. We will be asking questions about the decision-making process."

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Tagged with: Living Landscapes