How Sheffield residents can help butterfly population to 'explode' in one community

Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust has teamed up with a new local environmental group to help the brimstone butterfly population ‘explode’ in the city.

Tuesday, 28th September 2021, 4:01 pm
Updated Tuesday, 28th September 2021, 4:01 pm
Brimstone butterfly

Whilst the brimstone butterfly 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).

Now Nether Edge and Sharrow Sustainable Transformation is encouraging people to plant common buckthorn in gardens and green spaces they are responsible for.

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Brimstone butterfly

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 said: “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, added: “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.”

To participate in the initiative and purchase some common buckthorn plants, visit