Volunteers get rewilding in Derby’s parks

Sunydale park volunteers stood in park around newly planted Sallow whips

Thu 11 Jan 2024

Volunteers have been getting into the spirit of rewilding at Derby’s parks by encouraging new residents, and an old favourite.

Members of the Derby Parks team were joined by volunteers from Friends of Allestree Park and Trees for Derby to plant Sallow whips (a young species of Willow) at Allestree Park, to help encourage Purple Emperor butterflies into the city. This is part of an ongoing campaign to encourage this striking species to establish itself in the East Midlands.

These trees were chosen because the Purple Emperor, which is found mainly in woodlands, prefers to lay its eggs on its broad leaves. The male gravitates to high points in woods, so the whips have been planted in sheltered areas near to existing Sallow trees to create the best possible habitat to attract them.

Sallow whip planting followed on from an earlier activity in November, which drew inspiration from nature for ‘Be a Jay Day.’ Over the winter, the Jay buries and hides thousands of acorns and can even remember where they’ve planted 10,000! Visitors to the park were encouraged to bury their own acorns to kickstart the rewilding process and encourage new oak trees to flourish.

Allestree Park is home to a rewilding project involving Derby City Council, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and the University of Derby. As the largest urban rewilding project in Britain, it has national significance as well as being important to the city.

The Friends of Littleover Parks were also involved in planting Sallow whips at Sunnydale Park, to help create a string of wildlife corridors across the East Midlands to encourage the Purple Emperor butterfly to set up home in the region. A total of 56 Sallow whips were planted across both parks, with the enthusiastic volunteers undeterred by the cold, damp weather. All the young trees will be cared for as they grow in maturity, and are expected to be ready for egg-laying in five years’ time.

Katherine Clarke, Strategic Lead Urban Rewilding at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, said:

It is fantastic to see volunteers come together to plant acorns and Sallow whips as part of this community rewilding project. Purple Emperor butterflies are strikingly beautiful, extremely elusive, and tantalisingly close to Derbyshire, colonising woodlands in adjoining counties. Sometimes we see an opportunity to give nature a helping hand, such as ensuring the habitat is just right for this magnificent butterfly as it moves north.

Councillor Hardyal Dhindsa, Cabinet Member for Communities and Streetpride, said:

As the saying goes, great oaks grow from small acorns. This is certainly true for these rewilding projects, which show how small activities play a significant part in encouraging biodiversity in our parks. I’d like to say thank you to all the volunteers who took part in this – the smiles on their faces show it was worth the effort. If you’d like to be involved in volunteering in our parks, we’d love to hear from you.