What is the project and who is taking part?

White-letter Hairstreak butterfly by Mike McKenzie
White-letter Hairstreak butterfly by Mike McKenzie

The Elms for Adur Hairstreaks project is being led by BC’s Sussex Branch, with support from the South Downs Volunteer Ranger Service, and will see at least 550 disease-resistant elm trees planted at Lancing College near Shoreham airport, to help the White-letter Hairstreak butterfly.

Hundreds of Sussex schoolchildren and college students, aged from six to 18, will help create new habitat for the rapidly declining butterfly. The young volunteers will include children from Sussex primary schools, special educational needs schools, cubs and scouts groups, college students and teenagers working towards their Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and all will be involved in tasks from planting, to learning more about the White-letter Hairstreak.


Why does this butterfly need our help?

The butterfly, identified by a distinctive ‘W’ marking on the underside of its wing, has experienced a 93% decline in numbers across the UK since the 1970’s and is at risk because its caterpillar will only feed on elm.

Millions of elm have been lost across Sussex and other parts of the country over the last 40 years due to Dutch elm disease, an infection first brought over to the UK on imported logs from Canada.

Why plant the trees at Lancing College?

Planting Elm at Lancing College in Sussex

Project Officer and BC Sussex volunteer, Jamie Burston, said: “Lancing College is the perfect place to plant elm because the White-Letter Hairstreak has been found breeding nearby and these trees will connect the existing colonies, creating a habitat corridor that will encourage the butterfly to expand its range across the Adur landscape.

“The butterfly’s distribution has dropped by 29% in the south east region since the mid-1990s, but at this site, the new trees will be protected from any threats or development and students can get involved in caring for them and surveying the butterfly for years to come.”

Farm Manager at Lancing College, Jon Hutcheon, said: “We already run forest schools in the College grounds to teach our students about local wildlife and conservation, but this project is allowing us to connect with more young people, across a range of ages and from all over Sussex.

“It’s so important to teach the younger generation about the importance of wildlife and the pivotal role they will all play in protecting species like the White-letter Hairstreak in the future.”

What types of trees will be planted and what happens next?

White-letter Hairstreak (egg) - Peter Eeles

Project volunteers have begun planting three types of disease-resistant elm, including LUTЀCE, Ademuz and Dehesa de Amaniel. The trees will add to the existing woodland and form hedgerows over the 500-acre Lancing College Estate.

The butterfly will use the new elm trees when they reach maturity and produce their first flowers, which takes around five to seven years.

Volunteers from BC Sussex will then be able to carry out butterfly surveys and help younger volunteers learn how to spot the White-letter Hairstreak and its eggs.

How can you help?

If you want to find out more about the project or get involved, please contact Project Officer, Jamie Burston. You can also message him on Twitter @jamieburston or contact the Sussex Branch directly. If you want to take part in a conservation event or attend a guided walk, visit the Events pages for more information.

Children planting Elm


Where has funding for the project come from?

Funding for the project has come from the Sustainable Communities Fund of South Downs National Park Authority, the Stanley Smith (UK) Horticultural Trust, Tesco’s Bags of Help scheme and BC’s Sussex Branch.

  • The South Downs National Park Trust is the official charity of the South Downs National Park. We are an independent organisation, governed by an autonomous and experienced board of trustees who oversee our work. Although we are small we have big ambitions to see more land managed for wildlife; more rare habitats protected; more local communities thriving and more people able to access and enjoy their National Park. This requires more investment and we want to secure and direct the substantial goodwill that exists for the South Downs to places where it can make a real difference. Any partnership, voluntary group or organisation undertaking a non-profit making project that socially, economically, environmentally or culturally benefits South Downs National Park communities can apply for SDNPA Sustainable Communities Funding. SCF grants are available for up to 60 per cent of the project cost from £250 to a maximum of £10,000. 
  • Lancing College is an independent boarding and day school located east of Worthing, near the village of Lancing in West Sussex. 
  • The Stanley Smith (UK) Horticultural Trust was established on 7 October 1970 in memory of Stanley Smith (1907-1968), an Australian businessman who had a keen interest in gardening, cultivating orchids and supporting horticultural projects across the world. The objectives of the Trust are to promote horticulture, to promote the conservation of the physical and natural environment by promoting biological diversity, to promote the creation, development, preservation and maintenance of gardens (preference will normally, but not exclusively, be given to gardens accessible to the public) and the advancement of horticultural education. For more information on the Trust, please email David Rae at @email or visit www.horticulture.org.uk.
  • The Tesco ‘Bags of Help’ funding scheme is supported by money from the five pence charge levied on single-use carrier bags. So far Bags of Help has awarded over £27 million to more than 3,500 local community projects. Funding is available to community groups and charities looking to fund local projects that bring benefits to communities. Anyone can nominate a project and organisations can apply online