The owners of a North Island butterfly sanctuary say they can run the embattled Natureland profitably and with less council funding than is currently being asked for.
The Butterfly Forest owners say the result will be a unique regional attraction featuring everything from hundreds of butterflies to crocodiles and a marine reef.
Butterfly Forest, which is based in Thames, made a submission to the Nelson City Council to merge their company with Natureland. The move would see it take over from the current Natureland Wildlife Trust, which has told council that it will be insolvent by September unless its funding is increased.
Butterfly Forest’s Daniel Adam and Nelson-based Geoff Proctor recently fronted council on behalf of the company, which opened the country’s first butterfly house in 1999. Now, 20 years later, it has been forced to find a new home due to the lease not being renewed at their current site.
If successful, they say they can run Natureland at the current proposed funding level of $170,000 and aim to reduce their reliance on council funds as they introduce new revenue streams.
Spokesperson and co-owner, Glenn Turner, says it seemed like the “ideal opportunity” for them to step in after reading about the current struggle Natureland was having with funding and hearing that closure was being considered as a possibility
“When the Natureland idea came up in Nelson it was purely by coincidence, but it seemed like an ideal opportunity to help Natureland survive. We approached the council and put together a submission, we’re trying to offer an alternative to closure.”
Butterfly Forest currently houses between 400-600 butterflies as well as other tropical species including frogs, reptiles and fish.
If successful, the entire collection will be moved to Natureland to be housed in an MPI-approved greenhouse along with more than 3500 botanical plants.
Plant propagation will become another form of revenue for Natureland, and a five-year-plan could include the introduction of crocodiles and a marine reef.
Glenn says the proposal is to increase the attractions at Natureland and to generate revenue to reduce the financial strain on ratepayers.
The group plan to form a new trust to run Natureland and say they would “dearly like” to give members of the current trust board the opportunity to join them.
“Put it this way, we really like the work they’ve done, if there is a way that we could make it work for everyone then that’s what we’d like to do,” says Glenn.
He stresses that it’s not about coming in and kicking people out or getting rid of animals that currently call Natureland home.
“It’s about saying ‘hey, we love Natureland as much as anyone and this is what we can offer’.”
And the chair of the current Natureland Wildlife Trust Alan Hinton says they are open to the idea of working together.
“I look like an exciting opportunity if it comes together. We all felt that that it would tie in quite nicely with what we do.”
However, the trust is still in “limbo” as it waits to hear if council will reinstate funding to $248,000 a year, rather than the $170,000 it was cut to as part of the long-term plan.
Alan says an ideal scenario would be getting the funding put back up with a proviso that the trust would look seriously at working with the Butterfly Forest over the next six to 12 months.
Another Butterfly Forest owner, Daniel Adam, recently told councillors how the company operated for almost twenty years in Thames, a city with a population of 28,000 people and made a profit every year.
He says there’s no reason why Natureland shouldn’t be a profitable venture as Nelson has a wider population of around 100,000 people.
“There’s not a problem with the people that are in the area, there’s a problem with how it is run.”
He says marketing and advertising is an area of concern and believes that there should be more advertising done out of town.
Daniel plans to relocate to Nelson if the proposal is successful and will be involved in the day-to-day running of Natureland.
Glenn says, between them, they have the knowledge and expertise to run Natureland but no jobs will be lost if they take over.