Uncovering the hidden diversity of species in urban areas | Urban Nature Project

A man wearing blue gloves sits hunched over a tray of tubes as he uses a pair of tweezers to place small pieces of insects into each one

Over the past year, the Natural History Museum’s Urban Nature Project team have been working together on a project funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Thanks to money from National Lottery players, we’ve been able to develop and test cutting-edge scientific tools and methods that will help study the natural world in new ways and transform our understanding of urban wildlife across the UK.

In this blog, the Museum’s UK Biodiversity Officer Sam Thomas talks about how we have been working with partners across the UK to better understand and protect urban nature.

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Gone fishing – first collection move pilot study underway | Clare Atkinson, Collections Assistant

Imagine inspecting millions of specimens collected over hundreds of years to check the correct information is recorded on the database, including where they are located. If it doesn’t exist in the database, imagine having to individually enter the correct information for these millions of specimens. And if that wasn’t challenging enough, imagine being timed while you do it. This is happening right now in a pilot study at the Museum’s South London storage facility, in preparation for the biggest move of specimens since the Museum opened in 1881.

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Preparing for the Museum’s largest ever move of natural history specimens | Sarah-Jane Newbery, Harwell Moves Project Manager

Me and Dolly the dog (not yet part of the moves team)

How do you lift a whale, pack a bear, or keep molecular samples at sub-zero temperatures as they navigate the M4? Welcome to my world, the world of the Harwell Moves Project Manager at the Natural History Museum…

Moves management is not really a job you come across on a regular basis, and when I get asked how I ended up in this career it can sometimes be a little awkward to say it was somewhat influenced by my love of Prince. Yes, that Prince, 80s visionary, Purple Rain pioneer and all-time legend. But I must admit that when I was given the option in one of my first roles at the National Archives of either going on archive management training or a PRINCE2 course (a methodology used for project management), it was obvious what I’d choose…

Last year I had the privilege of joining the museum to manage the exciting, if slightly daunting(!), move of millions of specimens to our new science and digitisation centre at Harwell Campus (you can find out more about the project here). This is a huge 6-year programme which will involve moving some of the biggest and smallest specimens on the planet, and over the past few months we’ve been starting to plan how we might go about achieving it.

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Growing science at the Natural History Museum | Tim Littlewood, Director of Science

Dead oysters – not something you think will have much of an impact on your life, but in this case I must be the exception to the rule. In 1987 I found myself in Jamaica, working on an initiative at the University of the West Indies to develop low technology oyster culture. One of my tasks was to understand why oyster mortality was so high – it was also what prompted my first experience of science, and with scientists, at the Natural History Museum.

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Lockdown introduces a new method for engaging with our collections | Curator of Micropaleontology

Nikon

2020 has been a difficult year and since March we have been working away from the collections in South Kensington. Learning new on-line communication skills has created opportunities for making our collections available to a wider audience.

Read on to find how using Microsoft Teams and a Nikon microscope we have remotely delivered access to our Micropalaeontology collections for the first time.

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Thanks for taking part in the Plant Club BioBlitz! | Citizen Science

A big thank you to everyone who took part in the Plant Club BioBlitz! Over two weeks we made 725 observations of 313 species across the UK. We had observations from car parks in Portsmouth, pavements in Leeds and London, people’s gardens, and even clifftops in Cornwall and the Outer Hebrides. You can view all our observations on iNaturalist.

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Discover plants near you with the Plant Club BioBlitz!

Sometimes plants can be easy to miss. But when we take time to look a little closer, we see how exciting and important they really are!  

As part of the Museum’s Family Festival, the Citizen Science Team invite you to join the Plant Club virtual BioBlitz, to take a closer look at plants and discover which grow near you. Look closely at the shapes and textures of leaves and flowers and use the resources on our BioBlitz webpage to help you to tell different plants apart. 

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Museum collections used to show our oceans are more acidic than 140 years ago| Curator of Micropaleontology

This pre-lockdown publication from the Micropaleontology team at the Museum has received a lot of press and social media attention. CT scans of the calcareous shells of microscopic plankton called Foraminifera have shown that modern examples can be considerably thinner than their equivalents recovered by the ground breaking Challenger Expedition of the 1870s. We argue this thinning is due to increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and subsequently more acidic oceans.

Read on to find out about the methods used and why this discovery is so significant for the future of our oceans and planet.

CT scans Foraminifera
CT scans of microscopic planktonic Foraminifera showing differences in wall thickness; historical specimens are on the bottom row and the warm colours indicate considerably thicker shells.

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The pandemic is a pivotal moment to raise awareness of biodiversity loss

Biodiversity loss is low on the public agenda, but the pandemic could help us reassess our relationship with the natural world,  writes Clare Matterson, the Museum’s Director of Engagement.

A newfound appreciation for weeds in the cracks of city pavements, enjoying melodious birdsong in place of the booming traffic and marvelling at quiet clear blue skies have become daily lockdown news.

Amidst the tragedy of Covid-19, nature has thrived and as we have slowed down in lockdown its variety has caught our eye.

Today is International Day For Biological Diversity, created by the United Nations 27 years ago to raise awareness of biodiversity issues and celebrate that variety.

Since then scientists have warned us about the catastrophic loss of species and their habitat because of our actions.

We need that variety of life on earth for food, medicines and clean water, never mind a spiritual boost in tough times.

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Digitisation uncovers rare specimens that highlight the diversity of sex in nature| Digital Collections Programme

Digitisation enables us to understand exactly what we have in the collection. This can provide updated and accurate collection records, improve estimates for digitising future collections and occasionally uncover the unexpected.  Continue reading “Digitisation uncovers rare specimens that highlight the diversity of sex in nature| Digital Collections Programme”