State’s oldest butterfly farm in Straffan preparing to close

Cost of running attraction a big factor in closure, according to owners Iris and Des Fox

 Sisters Minna Maria (7) and Naina Therese George (5) with Owl Butterflies at Straffan Butterfly Farm which is due to close at the end of August. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Sisters Minna Maria (7) and Naina Therese George (5) with Owl Butterflies at Straffan Butterfly Farm which is due to close at the end of August. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

The State’s oldest butterfly farm in Straffan, Co Kildare, is to close at the end of this summer, its owners have said.

Straffan Butterfly Farm was opened 30 years ago by butterfly enthusiasts Des and Iris Fox and is the State’s only stand-alone butterfly farm. It has been a popular venue for school tours for many years and Ms Fox said some of those children had returned to visit with their own children years later. The attraction is run from their home in Ovidstown for three months every summer.

Ms Fox said the cost of running the centre was one of the main factors in its closure. “The costs are massive, between heating and insurance,” she said. “We’ve never got grants from anyone. We are totally standalone.” At any given time during the summer, some €2,800 worth of butterflies are flying around the hot house. “The butterflies come in from Papua New Guinea and South America every week at the pupae stage and they hatch here in the butterfly house.”

Three months

Some of the butterflies will breed in the house but because the breeding cycle takes about two months, the summer is almost over before a new butterfly emerges from its chrysalis. “And you have to remember that butterflies are plant-specific. A butterfly will die and not lay an egg if she doesn’t have the right plant to lay an egg on,” she said.

The attraction also has tarantulas, scorpions, lizards and snakes and they too must be kept at a certain temperature all year round. She said other butterfly farms had opened and closed in the past 30 years, some after just one season.

Alcorns garden centre in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, has a butterfly house and mini-zoo attached to the centre and Ms Fox said it was very difficult to run a butterfly farm without these ancillary attractions. “It has been a huge commitment and the costs just keep rising.”

Flourish

“Everyone likes to blame everyone else for the loss of butterflies but we are all to blame because we all like our nice tidy gardens. None of us want a nettle patch at the end of the garden, or weeds, which is what the butterflies like,” she said.

Their website straffanbutterflyfarm.com contains tips on how to attract butterflies and encourages people to plant holly bushes in sunlit areas to encourage the holly blue butterfly to thrive.

“Also you can help the white butterflies by planting nasturtiums either in the garden or better still in window boxes.”

Straffan Butterfly Farm will close on August 30th.

But what will they do? “Well we do like to visit butterfly houses around the world,” she said. “Our own is as good as any of them, but smaller.”

Keeping tabs : How many there are

Some 64,000 butterflies were recorded in 120 sites around the State last year, according to the Irish Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. The scheme, run by the National Biodiversity Data Centre, involves volunteers doing a fixed walk and recording butterfly activity 26 times between April and September.

Project co-ordinator Dr Tomás Murray said last year’s findings preliminary findings suggest 18 per cent of Ireland’s butterfly species are under threat of extinction and another 15 per cent have “near threatened” status. “It’s still too early to provide an overall trend across all species . . . since we did the first field season in 2008, 2010 was the best year with over 28 per cent more butterflies flying in the Irish landscape, whereas 2012 was the worst with 34 per cent less butterflies being observed,” he said. “It was quite dramatic how low 2012 was . . . but it was a very poor year for weather.”

He said some species were doing very well, such as the Brimstone and Ringlet butterflies. Their populations were expanding by more than 5 per cent per year. Losers included some previously common butterflies, such as the Large White and the Wood White which were declining by more than 5 per cent per year.

“That’s very surprising because both of them are relatively common and without the monitoring scheme we wouldn’t have presumed that they were in trouble, ” Dr Murray said.

Some species, such as the Large Heath and the Small Blue, are now so rare they aren’t recorded frequently enough to estimate the changes in their population.

This year 129 enthusiasts are keeping tabs on our butterfly population. Some 3,500 butterfly monitors are doing the same work across 20 other European countries and giving their findings to Butterfly Conservation Europe.

Its index recorded a 50 per cent drop in Europe’s grassland butterfly population between 1990 and 2011.