Man opens bug zoo over 20 years after he told wife he'd 'keep a few in the shed'December 4, 2022
What started out as a few praying mantises bought by Martin French as a hobby eventually turned into a collection of over 200 species of invertebrates from all over the globe.
Now, with the help of £70,000 worth of funding from HSBC, Martin has been able to open a whole zoo for his little pals, including a café and a gift shop.
Martin, who founded the BugzUK business over two decades ago, said: ‘Breeding tropical invertebrates has been a passion of mine for the past 30 years.
‘It’s so exciting to see how many bug-mad kids and adults there are in and around Norfolk.
‘Opening the zoo has allowed me to turn this hobby into a career so I can share my knowledge with the next generation of invertebrate enthusiasts.’
Martin’s BugzUK Park first opened earlier this year, before the latest expansion, and has seen over 10,000 visitors walk through the doors.
By taking part in ‘handling experiences’, guests can get up close and personal with spiders, stick insects, praying mantises, millipedes, beetles, snails, vinegaroons, katydids and cockroaches.
Martin plans to expand the zoo, which has already created 10 jobs in the community, over the next decade and open new exhibitions each year.
Measuring in at 8,100 sqft, it all started when Martin’s wife asked him a very important question.
He recalled ‘My wife Lorraine asked me what my passion was and I realised I had a fascination for all things creepy-crawly and decided to buy some praying mantis to keep as a hobby.
‘In a very short time, the mantis bred, and I contacted other hobbyists to swap and sell the hatchlings.
‘In time, my collection grew until it took over two sheds, a double garage and the back end of my house, much to the amusement and support of my wife.
‘Our next move in 2009 saw me build a 60ft shed in my back garden in which to house my ever-growing collection, and BugzUK.com, the website used to sell our insects, became one of the most popular invertebrate sales sites on the web.
‘I have, ever since, had it in my mind to set up an invertebrate zoo and finally in 2020 I took the plunge and bought five acres of land on which to build the zoo that now stands here.
‘My hobby was definitely getting out of hand!’
But it wasn’t always plain sailing for Martin and his creepy crawly collection.
‘I spent over two years building the first phase of this park on a large field in the middle of nowhere, with no facilities, just as the covid pandemic hit, and we were starting to feel the full effect of Brexit on supply chains,’ he explained.
‘There were many times when I felt like giving up, for lack of builders, lack of materials and the fact that the project was turning into a money pit.
‘Despite all the odds, I didn’t give up and now we are open to the public. Tthe reaction has been great, and I welcome you all to my dream come true.
‘Over the next ten years, as we can afford it, I want to build the next five phases of this project, which will make this park possibly the largest specialist Tropical Invertebrate Park in the world, and will be one of the most unusual places you will have ever spent time visiting.
‘I can only hope that you learn to love these creatures as I do, as without them, our world would collapse.’
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