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A Magazine for Sheffield

Working collectively to get Sheffield buzzing

There has been a rapid loss of flying insects since the early 2000s. We can help nature by making tiny changes that make a huge difference.

Wild flowers
Rachel Bower

Do you remember when car windscreens used to be covered in splatted insects? That was before the ‘windscreen phenomenon’ – the rapid loss of flying insects since the early 2000s.

This is a critical time for insects. A recent citizen science survey found that UK flying insects have declined by 60% in less than 20 years.

Insects are vital to us all. A recent Wildlife Trust report on insect decline concluded that ‘drastic declines in insect numbers will have far-reaching consequences for both wildlife and people.’

What can we do to help insects and increase biodiversity in Sheffield?

It’s easy to look at the figures and feel despair - how can anything we do as individuals reverse this massive decline?

Try this wilderness in a corner. It will bring you much happiness
Rachel Bower

Luckily, there are some amazing organisations and initiatives in Sheffield inviting us to come together to help nature. We can all make tiny changes that make a huge difference.

We live in a city with gardens, parks, grass verges, allotments, playing fields, railway embankments, canal and river towpaths and roundabouts. If we work collectively and avoid pesticides we can create food and shelter for insects and get the city buzzing.

Even if you only have room for a small pot or window box, you can provide vital nectar and pollen – every flower is a small stepping stone for insects. None of us are doing this in isolation – we’re all part of a big network for nature.

What’s happening in Sheffield to improve our environment?

There are lots of local groups, from community gardening to street tree campaigning, look online to find the ones closest to you.

Nature Recovery Sheffield is a good place to start. This is a group of organisations who have come together to declare an ecological emergency in Sheffield. And I’ve recently been getting involved with Nether Edge and Sharrow Sustainable Transformation (NESST). One of their brilliant initiatives has been a joint venture with the Wildlife Trust to increase the Brimstone butterfly population in Sheffield and Rotherham.

A male Common Brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni)
Zeynel Cebeci

The Brimstone is a large, pale lemon butterfly with wings shaped like a leaf. The larvae can only eat buckthorn, so when these shrubs are not around, the butterfly can’t breed.

NESST invited people to plant Common Buckthorn in their gardens and other green spaces. This isn’t a quick win as the shrub will take a few years to grow, but in 5-10 years we should see a butterfly boom!

A similar project started in East Suffolk in 1998, where Brimstone butterflies were very rare. They planted 2000 Buckthorn plants over five years and by 2010 the population had ‘exploded’, and is now a very common butterfly in the area.

This shows what is possible when a lot of individuals take small actions together. NESST are running other initiatives which work in the same way, inviting people to put up swift boxes and support house sparrows.

They’re also running a big campaign to increase the number of street trees in Sheffield, which are amazing for insects (and also keep us cool in this scorching weather!).

Other easy ways to help insects

Don’t forget, your garden, yard, balcony or local park is part of the collective picture, even if you’re not involved in one of these bigger projects.

If you have a garden, let it get a bit messy.

Can you leave a patch of grass to grow long? Just mowing some areas less frequently has been shown to be of huge benefit to insects; meadow habitats support eight times more wildlife than short mown grass.

Don’t use pesticides.

Try not to use harmful chemicals at home. Plant wildflowers in pots or a small patch of your garden. Let weeds grow. Dandelions, nettles and thistles are great sources of nectar and pollen.

Create a water source outside.

Even a washing-up bowl with some pebbles is beneficial. Sign up to support a campaign. Donate to a crowdfunder for trees. Only use outdoor lighting when you need it, and try to create dark spaces in your garden for insects.

Help the Bug Life survey

If you have a car, you can help Bug Life find out more about the ‘windscreen phenomenon’ this summer when you make your essential journeys (1 June - 31 August 2022).

Just download their app and count the number of insects on your number plate using a ‘splatometer’ grid. This will help build a more accurate picture of what is happening with flying insects in Sheffield.

Learn more

You can find out more about NESST by becoming a member or donating to their crowdfunder.

Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust have some great advice about other actions you can take in their Action for Insects campaign, including recommendations for the best flowers and plants to support insects.

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