Campaigns launched to save beloved St Albans Butterfly World

David Bellamy at Butterfly World

David Bellamy at Butterfly World - Credit: Archant

Pressure is mounting to halt the closure of much-loved St Albans sanctuary, Butterfly World, with supporters launching a variety of campaigns.

Tens of thousands of fans from across the globe have signed e-petitions calling upon the tourist drawcard’s owners, Ipswich-based civil engineering firm J Breheny Contractors, to reverse its decision to cease operations.

One online petition had garnered well over 30,000 signatures within days of news breaking on the Herts Advertiser’s website on December 11 that the company’s chairman, John Breheny, was to close the Butterfly World project, off Noke Lane in Chiswell Green, from the end of the 2015 season.

He said that since its inception in 2009, the sanctuary had made a succession of trading losses, and the engineering firm had twice rescued the project from insolvency and ‘certain closure’.

Seven permanent members of staff are being made redundant.

John said that, due to ‘finite resources’, Breheny employees could not carry on funding the project.

But that has provoked a strong reaction with one petitioner, George Szelazek, pointing out that Butterfly World has made a “huge ecological significance to our environment.

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“Not only is it the country’s only butterfly study centre of its kind, it is also a wonderful jewel in the heart of Hertfordshire.”

She is keen for “other funding to keep the centre running [to] be found, perhaps from conservation charities or from Government environmental budgets.”

Over 36,000 people have signed her online petition, from Portugal to Brazil, with one commenting that closing this “wonderful oasis will make it harder for conservation of this beautiful insect”.

Another e-petition has secured well over 2,000 signatures, calling upon John Breheny to “give Butterfly World a chance to turn things around”.

It adds: “With public support the team at Butterfly World are confident they could turn a profit.”

A Facebook page set up to “Save Butterfly World” has also been set up by the community in support of efforts to stop it closing.

Meanwhile, a more direct approach has been taken by a member of the sanctuary since its inception six years ago, former Watford councillor John Horsfield, who has written to John Breheny to ask why members and supporters were not informed of financial problems earlier, to see if there was a way forward.

John describes the site as an important one between St Albans and Watford, and wants a charity to run the sanctuary: “if you want to raise money, you have to have a charitable status”.

The Herts Advertiser has tried to contact John Breheny for comment on the site’s future, but the firm is closed for a fortnight over Christmas.

St Albans district council gave planning permission for a new building, for the exhibition of butterflies and plants, 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 sign the online petition, go to:

Or, see the Facebook page here.