A world of their own at Butterfly World, Hertfordshire

The world's largest butterfly house is coming to Hertfordshire. Marie Hardingham finds out how it will provide a safe haven for butterflies and help stop them disappearing altogether

'We live in a beautiful countryside - let's keep it that way' - David BellamyTHERE have been huge celebrations in the naturalist world as Butterfly World finally got its wings. David Bellamy joined a host of local dignitaries and schoolchildren for the launch of the new state-of-the-art development which is being built at Chiswell Green, near St Albans.The pioneering preservation development is set to be the biggest walk-through butterfly experience in the world with more than 10,000 tropical butterflies in flight at any one time, filling the 100m transparent biome with a kaleidoscope of movement and colour. Sections of the dome will be submerged to feature many tropical creatures including scorpions and spiders.The aim of the project is to reverse what has been described as the 'silent natural disaster' threatening butterflies in the UK. More than three quarters of British species have dramatically declined in the last 20 years. The east of England has suffered the worst declines due to habitat loss and Hertfordshire and Middlesex alone lost 17 species in the last century.Chief trustee David Bellamy, whose career as a botanist, writer and broadcaster spans 42 years, explains, 'When I was growing up in London there were loads of butterflies, but over the years miles and miles of hedgerows have disappeared making way for urban living and causing the natural habitat of the butterfly to disappear.'The uses of modern farming techniques and garden makeovers have also contributed to habitat loss. People have decking and concrete now, leaving no place for the plant that feeds the caterpillar to live and grow. We live in a beautiful countryside - let's keep it that way.'The 26-acre attraction is the brainchild of award-winning lepidopterist Clive Farrell and is set to be one of the most popular and is being built in two phases. Phase one is due to open June to September 2009 as 'Future Gardens' and will demonstrate habitat friendly and sustainable gardens, perfect for butterflies, birds and insects. Part of Future Gardens is a design competition open to all-comers giving people the chance to showcase their designs. The selected designers will be entitled to a bursary of �25,000 to make their dream gardens a reality.Phase two will see the dome itself put into place, completing the project by late spring 2011. Future Gardens will continue to be part of the experience. Clive opened his first walk-through butterfly display in 1979 in London. Since then he has opened three others in Britain, one in Switzerland and another in Florida. This innovative creation will be the ultimate butterfly and moth exhibit ever. Clive's life has been dominated by his profound interest in butterflies. As a young child his fascination was alerted when he spotted a caterpillar of the garden tiger moth. He popped it in a matchbox and watched it transform and ever since has been captured by these incredible creatures.'I think it will be another world experience,' says Clive. 'On grey winter days you'll enter through the gigantic rock entrance into the warm light where you will be greeted by an enormous Maya ruin and a lush tropical jungle. It will be an experience of ancient culture and archaeology as well as a butterfly exhibition.' The �25m project will act as an active conservation vehicle for funding of research and local community projects. It will be self-sustaining with shares offered to the general public and sponsorship opportunities for businesses. Clive explains, 'I decided that ten per cent of the shares of Butterfly World Project Limited will go into Butterfly World Trust, a conservation charity aiming to raise awareness of the threats to the world's butterfly and moth population, educate people about conservation and fund research.'If the project is as financially successful as I believe it will be the charity will benefit handsomely. Funds will be spent on education, research and possibly even setting up the odd additional butterfly farm in the tropics.'For more information visit www.butterfly-world.org garden designers should contact Therese Lang 01373 812223 and sponsors to Angela Harkness, Director of Development on 01442 257722.BuddingBUTTERFLY BRIEF

Attract butterflies to your garden with nectar fuelled plants such as buddleia, poppies, primrose and sweet William. The metamorphosis of a butterfly consists of egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), imago (adult butterfly). The imago can live from a week to nearly a year depending on the species. Best habitats are wetlands, meadows, woodlands and rainforests. Queen Alexandra's Birdwing is the largest butterfly in the world, with a wingspan of up to 23 centimetres.