Closure of Butterfly World St Albans confirmed by owners
PUBLISHED: 09:31 07 January 2016
Hopes of resurrecting Butterfly World have been dealt a final blow as the sanctuary's owner refuses to be swayed by pleas across the world to save it.
But the Breheny Group has tried to quell fears that the 27-acre Green Belt site is under threat of development, saying there are “no plans” to put it on the market.
In early December, an email to “friends” of the project - based off Noke Lane in Chiswell Green - from the attraction’s chairman, John Breheny, said the 2015 season was to be its last, because of a succession of trading losses.
He explained its closure would proceed with “immense regret”. Despite the efforts of dedicated staff and volunteers, the Breheny Group had previously “twice rescued the project from insolvency and certain closure”.
Shocked supporters from across the world have since signed an online petition in their tens of thousands, calling upon the privately owned group to try and save Butterfly World.
And in an open letter to the chairman, posted on Facebook, the sanctuary’s devastated staff urged John to reconsider the closure, and work with them and the local community to find a way to make it financially viable.
However, this week, in a strongly worded statement, the project’s owners said that despite the strength of feeling, “and however well meant, it does not constitute a plan that will remove the fundamental issue of a seasonal business which is not financially viable”.
It pointed out that “it is Breheny employees who have cash-flowed the operation” and while Butterfly World “has always been a privately owned operation, the history of annual trading losses of the project over the past six years are there for all to see in publicly available annual accounts.”
The Breheny Group said those accounts, however, “do not tell the whole story, as many of the back office costs and management time have never been passed on to the project.
“The very fact of the number of times the project has been rescued would surely give the best indication yet of its viability, in addition to the lack of genuine interest from external investment from any source during those years.”
One of the reasons given previously for the attraction’s demise was the failure to secure financial backing for the proposed multi-million-pound biome, which was to add to its income stream by housing thousands of tropical butterflies and allow the project to welcome visitors all year round, rather than remain limited to opening between Spring and Autumn.
While the closure has resulted in seven people being made redundant, the Breheny Group’s statement said that, “a number of ideas to generate greater project viability [were] discussed openly with staff during the consultation process.
“That process included all the ideas we have seen suggested to date during the social media campaign of the last two weeks [for example applying for government and conservation charity grants], but were ruled out as not being workable solutions.”
In response to questions from the Herts Advertiser about whether developers had expressed an interest in the site, the Breheny Group replied: “No. No such approaches have been received, and there are no plans for its sale”.
Asked about progress in finding a new home for popular Butterfly World inhabitants, the leafcutter ants, the group said: “There are two interested parties, so logistics are not finalised. Their placement is expected in the next two weeks or so.”
The creatures became infamous when, in a freak accident, rogue ants chewed through an electrical cable to their display tank, and electric shock waves passed through the chambers and killed the queen, which led to the death of over a million ants in the colony during the following months.
They were replaced with another colony, with the attraction commissioning an expert to search the rainforests of Trinidad for a new queen.