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 for a variety of reasons, having knock on negative impacts on the larger birds and mammals that themselves eat the insects.

Yet small steps such as planting the larval host plants of the insects can have dramatic positive impacts. So I was delighted and determined to offer to partner with Paul and his organisation, NESST, to launch this current joint initiative that we are announcing today.”

Paul Selby continues:

“It is really easy for the public to join us in this exciting initiative. All they need to do is to fill in the form on our website with their contact details, and the number of Common Buckthorn plants they want to purchase, for £3 per plant. They need to do this before 31st October 2021.

Shortly afterwards, I will contact them, and arrange electronic payment. I’ll also be making the bulk order in early November.

The bulk order will be delivered to the head office of Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, on Stafford Road in Sheffield.

Once delivered, we’ll be in touch with individuals who have ordered plants to give them a range of date/time options to come and collect their plants. We’ll also provide them with aftercare advice.”

Liz Ballard summarises and concludes:

“Some people think that conservation and increasing biodiversity is difficult and complicated, and in some circumstances it really is. But in other circumstances it is actually really quite simple – plant the right species of plant and few years later the population of a large and visible butterfly will massively increase.

There are many other simple ideas like this, for other butterflies, other insects, and other wildlife. We want to use this current initiative to inspire others into realising how they too could take simple practical steps to begin to deal with the current biodiversity emergency.”

To participate in the initiative and purchase some Common Buckthorn plants, simply visit the following website and fill in the form here. 

(c) Gillian Day