A bit of a flutter at Butterfly World

Butterfly World, St Albans

Butterfly World, St Albans - Credit: Archant

WITH the summer weather in full swing, I headed to Butterfly World in St Albans. This is peak season for butterflies and Theo, like most toddlers, is happiest when exploring, so we put its marketing promise of “see, touch, learn and explore” to the test.

Butterfly World, St Albans

Butterfly World, St Albans - Credit: Archant

Butterfly World boasts tropical and native butterfly breeds, but it is also home to a variety of more unusual insects. It has a creative and full summer holiday programme offering activities like building a bug hotel, butterfly art, bug hunts and photography.

Butterfly World, St Albans

Butterfly World, St Albans - Credit: Archant

Most of the sessions are either free or priced around the £2-£3 mark.

Butterfly World, St Albans

Butterfly World, St Albans - Credit: Archant

The Tropical Butterfly House, Ant World hut and Insect Handling Centre are clustered around the entrance.

They are kept warm and humid so I recommend taking plenty of water. Buggies aren’t allowed inside but there is space to park them outside.

We headed to the Insect Study Centre first for one of the daily insect handling sessions. You can hold Giant African Snails, Madagascan Hissing Cockroaches and Stick Insects.

While Theo is a bit young to be trusted with anything as delicate as a stick insect, the staff were happy for him to touch them and the whole session was conducted in a relaxed way.

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The children were allowed to take as much time as they wanted and the buzz it created was infectious. Even I, despite my squeamishness, couldn’t wait to hold the Giant Snail.

The Tropical Butterfly House was a highlight for us and Theo was able to toddle around under my watchful eye.

A couple of chairs are provided so you can sit still and make yourself a more attractive landing strip for butterflies.

It is fascinating to watch them flit around you, and there were many different sizes, shapes and colours of butterflies on parade. The intention is to build a much larger biodome when funds permit.

On the day we visited, Ventura Events Wild Animal Workshops were also running interactive sessions as part of the summer holiday programme and for £2 we stroked a meerkat, tortoise, snake and other wild animals.

The café, gift shop and toilets are also clustered around the entrance which makes navigating between them easy. The toilets and baby changing facilities are clean and modern, and the gift shop is a treasure trove for children, aimed at inspiring miniature David Bellamys.

The Nectar House Café is popular and felt family-focused. It is sensibly priced, selling hot and cold food and drinks, as well as cakes and ice creams. There was plenty of seating in the shade or sun, highchairs were available and you could help yourself to tap water.

With a large outdoor space to explore, Butterfly World has carved out paths through their wildflower meadows in the shape of antennae, and popped in benches and covered picnic areas along the way. Steps are marked on the map so there are no nasty surprises for those with a buggy, and there are different routes to choose from.

The meadows are designed to attract native breeds of butterflies and an impressive 24 species have been identified since June 2009, so there was plenty to see as we walked around.

Immediately behind the café is the Natural Play Area with slides, bridges, a large wooden climbing frame, a shaded sandpit and a long Willow tunnel.

It wasn’t enclosed but the plentiful seating meant that you could keep a close eye on proceedings and each section was interconnected so it felt like one long assault course, ideal for tiring out your loved ones!

Once I had dragged Theo away from the sandpit, we explored the Caterpillar and Leaf Gardens, comprising 19 individually designed gardens. Our particular favourite is the Big Flowerpot Garden, where the giant pots and spade give you an ant’s view of the world.

The gardens are inventive and quirky and those that contained mini ponds were marked with ‘shallow water’ warning signs. They are buggy accessible and well designed for children to explore.

Entrance prices have stayed fixed for the last three years (£7.50 for adults, £5.50 for children, under threes free) and at the end of our day, I felt we had really made the most of Butterfly World because we had got involved in everything on offer.

It lived up to its ethos of “see, touch, learn and explore” and although primarily aimed at children aged two-and-a-half upwards, Theo wasn’t excluded and it was a fun and safe space for him to explore.