Butterfly World closure: what went wrong for St Albans venue?

Prof David Bellamy kicked off Butterfly World's bug hunt bonanza in St Albans as part of National In

Prof David Bellamy kicked off Butterfly World's bug hunt bonanza in St Albans as part of National Insect Week. He is pictured with Rose Tangye (4) from Berkhamsted, Pip (10) and Lily Honey-Doyle (9) from Luton. - Credit: Photo supplied by Butterfly Worl

Herts Ad news editor Madeleine Burton, who has followed the Butterfly World development since the outset, looks into the causes behind the recent closure.

It all started so well. From a muddy building site with potential, Butterfly World emerged like a chrysalis into the light at a champagne-fuelled launch party on a bright summer’s day in 2009.

The great and the good mingled with gardeners and designers to mark the opening of St Albans’ newest tourist attraction, albeit one that was more about the so-called Future Gardens at the time than the butterflies themselves.

Patron actress Emilia Fox posed for photos and gave interviews to national and local media about her love of butterflies and Dr David Bellamy spoke with great enthusiasm about the project and its huge environmental benefits. He was to go on to be a regular visitor at Butterfly World, photographed with parties of schoolchildren and with the ubiquitous butterfly on his beard.

The project also attracted other high profile patrons, notably Sir David Attenborough and TV gardener and presenter Alan Titchmarsh.

But it was always clear, from founder Clive Farrell’s original vision right up until the present day, that the proposed centrepiece, a biome billed as the biggest butterfly experience in the world, was vital to secure its future.

It was envisaged as an Eden Project for butterflies which would house a living rainforest, 10,000 tropical butterflies, Mayan ruins, streams and rope walkways.

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Building the biome would ensure that the project could remain open all year rather than just through the Spring into the Autumn with no income at all in the winter months.

Visitors could see where the biome would be and there were several false dawns when it looked as though the funding might be forthcoming to fulfil Clive’s vision.

Then the recession struck and optimism about the biome started to fade. The project still had its Future Gardens - the result of a competition in which talented garden designers from around the world were invited to contribute designs for plots which fitted into the segments of a caterpillar.

But instead of a biome, its centrepiece remained the Flowerpot Garden designed by Ivor Hicks subsequently joined by the Chrysalis Lake and new chalets housing insects including the popular leafcutter ants.

There was a butterfly tunnel and wildflower meadows as well as children’s play areas, a cafeteria and shop - but the main attraction did not materialise.

Building company Breheny built Butterfly World and right from the days when it was a hole in the ground, it was clear they were enthusiastic about the project.

The company eventually took over the 27-acre site with John Breheny talking enthusiastically at a press conference about its future. But right at the very end, he said there were no plans to build the biome at that time....

And without that, it was always going to be an uphill battle.