Darwin, dragons and damsels | Identification Trainers for the Future

In 2009, I visited the Museum’s Darwin Centre for the first time. It had been a culmination of a pilgrimage to see as many exhibitions as possible that celebrated Charles Darwin’s bicentenary of his birth that year. Little did I realise that 6 years later, as a trainee on the Identification Trainers for the Future project, I’d be lucky enough to work in the Darwin Centre itself, re-curating some of the Museum’s 80 million specimens that form the world’s most important natural history collection.

Photograph of the Cocoon structure from below looking upwards
The Cocoon in the Darwin Centre, which opened in September 2009.

I watched with bated breath on the 14 September 2009 as Sir David Attenborough and Prince William opened the state of the art facility. It allows over 350 scientists and researchers to study zoology, botany and entomology collections to address some of the key challenges of the 21st century such as food security, biodiversity loss and disease. As Sir David Attenborough so eloquently put it:

Never has it been so important to understand the  diversity of life on earth and how it is changing, if we are to tackle many of the issues that humans face today … The Darwin Centre will inspire the next generation of naturalists and scientists through its combination of scientific expertise, specimens, public dialogue, film and interactive media. It will enable all of us to explore the wonders of our world and investigate its secrets.

It was therefore a bit surreal when my curation placement actually took me to the 7th floor of the Darwin Centre in the Entomology Research and Curation Lab, where I have been asked to re-curate the Odonata of the UK. This order is split into Zygoptera (Damselflies) and Anisoptera (Dragonflies).

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Latest edition of evolve out now | Library and Archives

Hot off the press is the autumn 2015 edition of the Museum Members’ magazine evolve and for those who love the Museum’s paper collections there is plenty to read about.

Image of the front cover showing a photo from the latest Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition
The cover of the latest edition of evolve

Natural Histories and the mandrake

The Natural Histories collaboration between the Museum and BBC Radio 4 over the last few months included the story of nightshade plant family and in particular the role of the mandrake in early medicine and its depiction in in botanical herbal illustrations such as those held in our collections.

New Bauer Brothers art exhibition in our Images of Nature Gallery and accompanying publication

Special Collections Librarian Paul Cooper introduces our exhibition of the botanical and zoological artwork of Franz and Ferdinand Bauer. The exhibition opened on 7 November 2015 and runs until 2017. All of the artwork by the brothers on display during this period comes from the collections of the Museum Library.

Continue reading “Latest edition of evolve out now | Library and Archives”

Images of Nature: The Bauer Brothers (New Publication) | Library and Archives

Our latest publication to accompany the new Images of Nature gallery exhibition ‘The Bauer Brothers’, which opens 7 November, has been published and is now available to buy onsite and online.

Picture of the book cover
The cover of the Images of Nature: The Bauer Brothers book by Paul Martyn Cooper

We are very proud to announce our newest publication Images of Nature: The Bauer Brothers. This beautiful collection of artworks from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries celebrates the work of Franz and Ferdinand Bauer, two of the most accomplished natural history artists of all time.

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Taking inspiration from the field and from women artists | Identification Trainers for the Future

In the latest update from our Identification Trainers for the Future project, Sally Hyslop continues the story of the work our five trainees have performed thus far.

Trainee life in the Museum is often focused through a microscope and so, after many months of study, it was brilliant to refresh our zeal for the natural world this month with a field trip to the Dorset coast. We spent three days exploring dramatic cliffs and coastal heathlands: by day, putting our developing botany skills into practise, and by night, spotting bats and catching moths.

The trainees in the field in Dorset
The trainees in the field in Dorset

The Museum’s Fred Rumsey and Mark Spencer led us through heath and bog on a hunt for the elusive bog orchid, Hammarbya paludosa. By the end of the day we found 109 spikes of these miniscule and delicate, rare, green flowers. On top of this, we encountered blankets of dainty white beaked sedge, flowering bog asphodel and all three UK species of sticky, carnivorous sundews along with their two hybrids.

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Wild orchids in August – what to look out for | Orchid Observers

Kath Castillo, our Orchid Observers Project Officer, tells us about the orchids you can search for out in the field this month.

August is nearly here and with it the start of the holiday season, so if you are planning a walking holiday or a bit of wildlife photography in the UK, there are some stunning species on our list to look out for and photograph for Orchid Observers.

A flower of the marsh helleborine. © Fred Rumsey
A flower of the marsh helleborine. © Fred Rumsey

Flowering now and into late August, the marsh helleborine (Epipactis palustris) is a fairly large orchid with loose clusters of pink and white flowers with a white frilly lower petal. Continue reading “Wild orchids in August – what to look out for | Orchid Observers”

A very busy time! | Identification Trainers for the Future

Our trainees on the Identification Trainers for the Future project have been extremely busy since our last blog post, here’s Mike Waller with an update on what they have been getting up to!

The trainees puzzle over their latest capture (L-R: Sally, Anthony, Mike and Katy)
The trainees puzzle over their latest capture (L-R: Sally, Anthony, Mike and Katy)

Our timetables, until now a collage of various colours, have become a very busy reality over the last two months. We got our teeth into another batch of long-anticipated ID workshops – Flowering Plants, Beetles, Flies and Earthworms. I think I speak for everyone when I say the skills and knowledge we’ve been passed by some of the leading scientific experts in the Museum have been rich, extensive and unique. Developing techniques to hoard as much of this golden information as possible have become paramount.

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Welcome to Orchid Observers, our new Citizen Science project | Orchid Observers

A new and exciting citizen science project has begun and it’s time to get involved with Orchid Observers! This research project, in partnership with Oxford University’s Zooniverse platform, aims to examine the flowering times of British orchids in relation to climate change.

In order to achieve this, we are inviting the amateur naturalist and professional botanical community, alongside nature loving citizens from across the country, to help us collect and sort orchid data.

The bog orchid (Hammarbya paludosa) is our smallest UK species.
The bog orchid (Hammarbya paludosa) is our smallest UK species. It usually grows on mountain peat bogs and can be found from July to August.

We want you to go out in the field and photograph any of 29 selected UK orchid species and upload your images onto our dedicated website, www.orchidobservers.org. Flowering times from each of your records will then be collated and compared with the extensive Museum herbarium collection, and data from the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland (BSBI), totalling a 180-year-long time-series of orchid records.

Continue reading “Welcome to Orchid Observers, our new Citizen Science project | Orchid Observers”