One small step for our grassroots community

A small blue butterfly (Cupido minimus) by Andrew Wood.

A small blue butterfly (Cupido minimus) by Andrew Wood. - Credit: Archant

It might just be me, but sometimes I feel as if I have seen too much nature, too much wildlife, too many amazing wonders of the natural world

The butterfly bank at Greenwood Park.

The butterfly bank at Greenwood Park. - Credit: Archant

When I say this, I'm not talking about the nature I have experienced first hand, the nature I have actually heard, seen, smelt, touched and yes, even tasted.

I am talking about the images of nature seen during hours of exquisite wildlife documentaries, within the glossy pages of premium wildlife magazines and countless other exceptional photos, capturing creatures at their most lovely, their most beautiful, and dazzling us with their finery and finesse.The message is clear: nature is extraordinary, beautiful in the extreme, complex, at times perplexing, but always surprising and infinite. But it is this word 'extraordinary' that bothers me.

It is the subtle message of all these fine productions that nature is 'extra-ordinary', outside and beyond our ordinary, everyday lives? And what's worse is, the more I watch, the more 'ordinary' this 'extraordinary' becomes. The once exotic unknown has been revealed up close and personal, again and again, thanks to our camera technology.

It's as if the bride has bared all, leaving no surprises or mystery for her wedding night. And yet, in reality, nature makes us wait, makes us go on a journey of discovery, allowing us only glimpses at a time. It is this process of persevering, of waiting, of uncovering, that makes wildlife watching so rewarding and ultimately deeply personal.

The butterfly bank at Greenwood Park.

The butterfly bank at Greenwood Park. - Credit: Archant

Of course, I'm not against the incredible wildlife programmes we enjoy on TV - they serve an important purpose - but what we see is served on a plate that we never had to wait or work for. It is a meal consumed for which we were never hungry.

Almost two years ago to the day I wrote about the closure of Butterfly World in St Albans. At the time there was a thin thread of hope that it might reopen as Butterfly World 2.0, but two years on, this is not to be. It appears Butterfly World was a meal for which we were not hungry, at least not enough to see it through some rocky financial times.

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Of course, the closure was a sad moment for it was hoped that Butterfly World would be an oasis for butterflies and indeed, in its short lifespan, had already become just that for the small blue butterfly. Absent from Herts for nearly five years, this little butterfly is now enjoying not just one, but two broods in a season thanks to the ideal habitat created at Butterfly World.

But I can't help wondering that had Butterfly World gone ahead in all it's glory, it, like those beautiful wildlife documentaries, might have served us up a feast that dulled us to the nature all around us?

Then, I suggested that the story of Butterfly World provided a good illustration of the journey we must all go on when it comes to conserving (and enjoying) our natural world.

I wrote that beyond the large organisation there must instead "be a grass-roots movement, one that has the ownership of the local community expressing its own care for its own local nature". It was therefore extremely gratifying and exciting to meet with Malcolm Hull, Chair of the charity Herts & Middlesex Butterfly Conservation, at Greenwood Park in St Albans where exactly this has been happening.

With the support of St Stephen Parish Council and funding from the lottery Heritage Fund a purpose-built chalk bank has been dug out and is being seeded and planted with chalk-loving plants that it is hoped will provide the perfect habitat for butterflies. A particular target species is the small blue butterfly that will hopefully colonise the area, cleverly designed to provide warmer microclimates and planted with the small blue's favourite food plant, kidney vetch.

While this is a relatively small-scale project compared to Butterfly World it has pulled together local volunteers and organisations including the local primary school. It is a truly grass-roots project that could be replicated across Hertfordshire, even on a miniature scale in our own gardens.

Butterfly World may be closed but it lives on in community action like this and I was equally heartened to hear that the action group, Butterfly World 2.0, has reinvented itself as a charity promoting the planting of wildflower meadows.

To date, with the support of local authorities and other organisations, they have planted three new meadows in St Albans, Hemel Hempstead and Watford.

So why not get involved in one of these projects or maybe even consider starting a similar project at a green space near you? You never know, you might just develop a hunger for our local wildlife and one that is far more satisfying than any TV documentary or pristine photo!

To get inspired by the project at Greenwood Park, go along to the public launch event at 10.30am on Sunday May 26 at the Greenwood Park Community Centre.