Butterfly World closure: celebrity backing couldn’t save St Albans tourist attraction

Butterfly World

Butterfly World - Credit: Archant

High profile supporters like Sir David Attenborough and David Bellamy may have attracted headlines and boosted visitor numbers, but in the end, they and other celebrities could not turn around Butterfly World’s fortunes.

Yet, on the face of it, the venture should have been a resounding success.

Carefully, and thoughtfully, built on St Albans’ green fringes, close to a busy M25 junction, and to nearby main thoroughfares to Watford and St Albans city centre, it seemed the ideal location to base a butterfly conservation themed project.

Even without the planned rainforest styled dome being built, it was considered a treasured attraction for visitors across Herts, Beds, Middlesex and beyond, according to publicity and marketing and administration manager Sally Cornish.

Clearly disappointed at the closure, she told the Herts Advertiser that the £27 million sanctuary could, if given a chance, have broken even. She said that devastated staff had felt confident of Butterfly World’s success, particularly as visitor numbers had continued to increase.

Sally said that this year alone saw over 12,000 pupils from 200 schools visiting, where children were encouraged to see the life cycle of a butterfly in action.

When it opened in 2009, it was a bare patch of earth with no resident butterflies. Five years on, 28 different British species have been recorded there, thanks to specially planted habitats.

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Gardeners, both professional and volunteers, have designed and maintained the expansive gardens, working closely with Plant Heritage, Groundworks and Oaklands College.

Sally said that the closure will not affect butterflies normally exhibited at the attraction, as falling temperatures over winter means they would normally be re-homed until the start of the summer season.

She added: “Thank you so much to everyone that has provided help and support over the last five years. It has been a pleasure and privilege to work so closely with such lovely people.”

St Albans district council gave planning permission for a new building, for the exhibition of butterflies and plants, in association with the Gardens of the Rose, in 2005. Back then, the council said that although it was inappropriate development in the Green Belt, there were special circumstances to support the sanctuary, ‘including the importance of maintaining the tourist attraction’.

One of the conditions attached was that the development was permitted only for purposes related to the use of the site for horticulture, horticultural training, research, butterfly keeping and visits by the public to both the Gardens of the Rose, and Butterfly World.