Awards 1995 Shell Technology for Development Award

Shell Technology for Development Award

The Winner: Fallen Stones Butterfly Ranch

It was building the road that nearly finished us, Clive Farrell, one of two partners who opened the Fallen Stones butterfly rearing ranch two years ago in the foothills of the Maya Mountains in Belize.

They laid the stone for the road. Then the rains came and it sank. So local Ketchi and Mayan Indians quarried rock with pickaxes, steel rods and hammers, loaded it on a trailer and broke it into small stones until finally the road was made. It cost Clive and his colleague Ray Harberd 20,000 and a year's time they had not bargained for. But Fallen Stones now rears iridescent blue morpho butterflies for exhibitions in Britain and elsewhere, saving the need to capture butterflies in the wild. It also returns butterflies to the wild in Belize.

Clive Farrell, who trained as a solicitor, says that butterflies are for him a childhood hobby which became an obsession and then a business. The business started when he set up a butterfly house at Syon Park, Brentford, home of another enthusiast, the Duke of Northumberland.

Clive first went to Belize to create the Shipstern nature reserve where he bred butterflies and, he says, "fell in love with the country". There were many more butterflies, he was told, in the wetter and more mountainous south. He and Ray Harberd, who had spent a lifetime in tropical agriculture, discussed the idea of a butterfly farm there. They agreed that Ray would set it up as Clive could not easily spend long periods away from England.

Charles Wright, who lived in the forest with the Indians, helped them find a beautiful piece of rainforest adjoining Lubantuum, the Place of Fallen Stones, full of traces of the old Mayan civilisation. They bought it from a farmer who became head man on the butterfly farm.

Ray Harberd suggested that, if the farm was to be viable, they also needed to set up a small hotel. The hotel, of wooden houses, is now flourishing. Indians take the guests into the forest, or canoeing down river where they can see parrots, hummingbirds and kingfishers. Two girls cook the meals in local and western style. The Ketchi and Mayan Indians, says Clive Farrell, are fantastic and reliable people.

On the farm, four Ketchi rear the butterfly pupae, 400 to 500 a week, which are taken by couriers to Clive Farrell's butterfly farm in Stratford upon Avon and to other butterfly exhibitions in Europe and the United States. They fetch 2 each. From 1996 on, Ray Harberd expects to raise 56,000 a year.

The first task in rearing butterflies is to identify the food plants on which the caterpillars will feed, and this means following female butterflies through the forest. The females have taste buds in their feet, and drum on leaves until they find the right one for egg-laying.

However, parasitic wasps are quick to find the eggs. Ray Harberd says some are so tiny they can fly four abreast through a mosquito net. So, once eggs are laid at the farm, they have to be collected and put in small ice cream tubs with covers tight enough to keep the wasps out. Each pot requires fresh food leaves every day.

Ray Harberd adds that the best rearing system has to be found for each butterfly species; the food plant identified, the number of caterpillars per tub determined. To ensure enough food, he grows two acres of the food plant for the blue morphos, and this means he has to be able to control the plant's pests and diseases. Food and nectar plants are also being encouraged in the forest. An observer remarks that the farm has brought some employment to the area and has enhanced the environment.