Hundreds of trees are being planted in South Derbyshire as part of a groundbreaking initiative to attract one of the UK’s most iconic butterflies to the region for the first time.

East Midlands Butterfly Conservation and South Derbyshire District Council have teamed up with the support of the National Forest Company to spearhead the project to welcome the iconic and magnificent Purple Emperor butterfly to local woodlands.

This large and magnificent butterfly dubbed ‘His Imperial Majesty’ has been slowly moving through the UK, colonising some woodland in adjoining counties. The new initiative aims to establish the species in Derbyshire and help its northward route.

The Council and East Midlands Butterfly Conservation have funded the purchase of 550 two-year old specially selected Goat Willow trees. These trees (also known as Sallow ‘whips’) are viewed as a perfect habitat for the species to thrive and become established.

The project to attract the Purple Emperor and to help preserve local biodiversity underscores the importance of our collective responsibility to safeguard our planet's natural beauty and launched with a tree planting ceremony at Rosliston Forestry Centre on Thursday, 30 November.

Key partners from the butterfly conservation initiative planted the first trees, laying the foundations that will attract this wonderful creature to South Derbyshire for the first time.

Rosliston Forestry Centre is a perfect setting, as the male butterfly gravitates to high points in woods, so planting the Goat Willows in elevated areas close to mature territorial trees is advisable.

Following the launch, other partners have pledged to support the project with tree planting. These include The National Trust at Calke Abbey, Staunton Harold & Foremark, the University of Derby, Derby College, Bretby Golf Club, Lubrizol, Toyota, St Modwen Homes, other local councils, Mimi’s Wood, Grangewood, Catton Park and other woodland sites.

Independent South Derbyshire District Councillor, Amy Wheelton, a keen backer of the new project said: “As both a Councillor and a local farmer who has meadows and woodland along the River Trent, I would like to applaud this fabulous project - as I am now keen to plant some more Goat Willows to help encourage this beautiful Purple Emperor butterfly to thrive.

“All residents and businesses need to work together to help create habitats that encourage more butterflies and wildlife in South Derbyshire. So, well done to all involved in this project for showcasing this.”

This initiative is one of many Butterfly Conservation projects across the UK to protect more than 100 threatened butterfly and moth species.

Ken Orpe of the East Midlands Branch of Butterfly Conversation said: “The Purple Emperor is one of the most iconic British butterflies we have. I am excited that we have teamed up with South Derbyshire District Council and partners to welcome this beautiful butterfly to our region.

“With the planting of trees across Derbyshire, the support from the group and members of the public we are extremely hopeful that ‘His imperial Majesty’ will grace our woodlands for the first time very soon!”

The National Forest underlined how important effective woodland management projects like this can be.

“This is a fantastic project and one we are delighted to support. The 2015 Butterfly Conservation report showed that butterflies decreased nationally by 16%, while in the Forest we saw a 14% increase over the same ten-year period,” added Thibaut Lambrey de Souza, community ranger for the National Forest. “By planting suitable habitats and effective woodland management, the National Forest is a living example of how people and nature can thrive together.”

The Purple Emperor is an extremely elusive butterfly which usually flies high in the tree-tops during July and August where it feeds on aphid honeydew and tree sap. However, the males occasionally descend to the ground, usually in mid-morning, where they probe for salts either from road surfaces or from animal dung.

Find out more about the project here