Magic of Life Butterfly House

Aberystwyth, Wales

Trust Environmental Aims

The Magic of Life is set up as a not-for-profit to raise awareness about The Natural World at both a local and a global level.

Our displays are living ecosystems which we use to deepen the public's undersanding of nature.

The educational remit has several core topics - plants and insects, rain forests, evolution, UK bio-diversity decline and wildlife gardening. Trained staff, usually biologists, talk about these subjects on a daily basis, family by family as visitors come in. These subjects are taught in a living tropical enivronment and are tailored to the visitors' questions which we are convinced leads to an in-depth learning experience. We inject a healthy dose of wonder and inspiration as one of our prime motives into stimulate an interest in the natural world.

At an average of 40 people a day, the numbers of visitors that we have communicated with now number in the tens of thousands. All in all, we have had 90,000 people through since opening.

Changing attitudes and consumer habits. The decline of species and habitats around the world is one of the most pressing issues of our time. The fundamental problem for biodiversity is lack of space due to our farming (and biofuel) needs. The main message that repeat practically daily is that it is you and I doing the damage when we go shopping and that if we want nature we have to pay for it. At reception, we hand out a sheet to each visitor that details some of the consumer products that we all can buy that help encourage biodiversity (please see here). We have also promoted the idea of establishing a 'Nature-friendly' food brand where farmers who leave a percentage of their fields to nature would receive a premium.

The 'Magic of Life' bit ..Right from the beginning, the Trust aimed to balance the human side to nature with the more traditional objective reasons. Ultimately, conservation of plants and animals and our local woodland is for humankind not for nature itself. It is our real loss if the gorilla or a Jamaican sunset moth goes extinct. Nature itself will always come back.

Aesthetics in nature conservation is still seen as a sentimental reason and not important in itself; yet for most people it is probably their primary motive for wanting the natural world saved. Yet, practically all of our visitors are coming to see the beauty of nature. We have always champioined aesthetics to be more openly recognised as a bona fide reason for conservation. Such recognition would allow future conservation to branch out in different directions and release it somewhat from its current target-driven focus.

Engendering interests. Any individuals showing the slightest interest in plants and insects is actively encouraged to develop that interest. Occasional ones are gifted children with remarkable facilities to absorb knowledge, others might have a love for caterpillars, but all are given the time they deserve - to go into depth in a subject rather than rush through superficially.

In terms of plants, we maintain 800 species and varieties on site, many of which are rare and endangered. This includes 80 types of Buddlejas of which the butterfly house as an on-going hybridisation program. Insects are far more resource demanding to keep in breeding. We have devoted much time to research into breeding and have on the largest collections of caterpillar plants in the UK. We also continuously experiment with other insects such as breeding beetles.

The Trust works in the true sense of the maxim, 'Act local, think global'. Our main work is one of communication. In the future, we hope to balance this with developing practical breeding programs of rare species and even re-introduce local butterflies into Wales.