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Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust calls on Council to save Chelsea Road elm tree, whilst trying to save butterfly colony.

Monday 5th February 2018

Despite considerable efforts by Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust and many other interested parties to seek a more sympathetic approach to the management of the Chelsea Road elm tree, Sheffield City Council plans to carry out pruning next week (week commencing 12 February), with a view to felling in the future.

The Trust has agreed to assist the Council with the translocation of White-letter Hairstreak butterfly eggs from the pruned branches as part of a butterfly mitigation plan, in an effort to try and save the colony of this declining priority species.

Liz Ballard, Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust’s CEO, said:

We remain strongly opposed to the Council’s decision to fell the Chelsea Road elm. Since 2015, we have campaigned alongside other organisations, local street tree groups and residents to save this particularly important tree.

This tree has survived for over 100 years, despite the ongoing threat of Dutch elm disease and numerous roadworks, and is both a key feature of the area’s street scene and a part of Sheffield’s natural heritage.

In January 2016 the Trust highlighted to the Council that the rare 120-year-old Huntingdon elm supported a colony of the White-letter Hairstreak butterfly, which is a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan due to its 96% decrease in abundance over the last 40 years, of which 77% has occurred since 2005. (State of UK Butterflies report, Butterfly Conservation).

As well as challenging the decision to fell the tree, the Trust asked the Council to recognise the presence of the White-letter Hairstreak butterfly in the tree canopy and protect the colony under its legal duty in the Natural Environment Act to conserve biodiversity.

Liz Ballard said:

The proposed felling of this tree illustrates many of the wider ongoing issues we have raised with the Council about the current street tree programme, including the impact of such a large and rapid felling programme on the city’s wildlife and natural environment. This tree in particular supports a colony of nationally important and endangered White-letter Hairstreak butterflies that will be lost through canopy reduction and felling. Keeping the elm tree is the simplest approach to retaining the butterfly colony it supports.

The presence of the butterfly was recognised by the Council over 18 months since the issue was first raised. As a result, the Council agreed to developing and delivering a butterfly mitigation plan, in consultation with Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust and Butterfly Conservation.

Liz Ballard said:

In the interests of securing the best outcome for wildlife, we have decided to assist with the Council’s butterfly relocation plan, involving our staff who have previous experience of White-letter Hairstreak egg relocation. We hope this will help to improve the chances of success for securing a future for the butterfly colony.

When the Council’s contractors Amey begin the pruning, the Trust will save the high canopy cuttings, searching for White-letter Hairstreak eggs. Once identified, these small branches will be set aside and relocated to suitable receptor trees. Sheffield Council Ecology Unit has committed to monitoring into the future to assess the success of the egg relocation, which cannot be guaranteed. It is important that pruning is carried out as soon as possible, before the eggs hatch, in order to give the translocation of the eggs the best chance of success.

Liz Ballard said:

Given the circumstances we believe it is an important course of action for us to pursue. The Council will pay costs for the involvement of our staff and we will continue to call on the Council to re-assess and reconsider the need to ultimately fell the Chelsea Road elm tree.

Anyone interested in volunteering to help relocate the butterfly eggs should contact Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust on 0114 263 4335 – the Trust will provide equipment and light refreshments. Only patience and good eyesight are needed!