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Today we launched a new initiative to increase the local population of the brilliant Brimstone Butterfly!

Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust (SRWT) have teamed up with a new local environmental organisation called Nether Edge and Sharrow Sustainable Transformation (NESST) to launch an exciting new initiative and are inviting the Sheffield and Rotherham community to join us in taking some simple, practical steps, which will help the Brimstone butterfly population to “explode” in our local area.  

Whilst the Brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni) is seen in most parts of Sheffield and Rotherham each year, its population is small. The butterfly has very simple needs, however, and its population can explode in size, simply by planting sufficient numbers of its larval host plant, Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica).

SRWT and NESST are encouraging people in Sheffield and Rotherham to plant Common Buckthorn in their gardens and in other green spaces that they are responsible for. All individuals need is a 1.5 metre x 1.5 metre x 1.5 metre space for each plant, which is sufficient space for the plant to reach a large enough size for the Brimstone butterfly to lay its eggs.

Paul Selby, representing NESST, came up with the idea for the local initiative, and says:

“In early 2021 I was talking to my friend on the phone, who described how he and others in East Suffolk had led an initiative that caused the population of the Brimstone butterfly to ‘explode’ a few years later. The idea was so simple, I thought I’d try it myself locally, within our new local environmental organisation.

So in mid-March, I emailed our then 360 members seeing if they’d be willing to join me in making a bulk purchase of Common Buckthorn plants, the plant that the Brimstone butterfly lays its eggs on.

I was delighted that 28 people responded to the one week deadline and ordered 180 plants, which I delivered to them just two weeks later. I’ve mapped where they’ve been planted, and already I anticipate that the Brimstone butterfly population will significantly increase in the area over the next 10 years, given the number of plants and relatively concentrated area.”

Liz Ballard, Chief Executive of Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust takes up the story:

“I know Paul through our joint work on the Sheffield Street Tree Partnership Group. When he mentioned the success of his Buckthorn for Brimstone initiative in the very small part of Sheffield he lives in, I instantly saw the potential for doing this on a larger scale in the whole of Sheffield and Rotherham.

We are in the middle of a biodiversity crisis, with populations of all types of insects crashing f