A crypt full of Rose’s lichens | Identification Trainers for the Future

In our next blog from the Identification Trainers for the Future trainees, Mike Waller gives you an insight into his curation placement. Mike has been working through lichen collections made by Francis Rose MBE. Rose (1921-2006) is perhaps best known for being the author of The Wildflower Key, for many the guide to British & Irish plants, however he was also an expert in lichens and bryophytes (mosses & liverworts) and much of his lichen collection is housed within the Museum’s cryptogamic herbarium, Mike’s work area for the last 3 months.

Deep within the dark, towering wooden cabinets of the cryptogamic collections, I’m tucked away at the end of a small corridor from where my seemingly endless journey has begun. The cryptogamic herbarium is also known as the Crypt in the Museum, but fortunately our crypt only contains the seedless plants and plant-like organisms such as mosses, lichens, ferns and fungi that are known as Cryptogams.

I’ve been tasked with preparing Francis Rose’s 5  years’ worth of Kent lichen specimens for incorporation into the main collection. With around 700 small packets containing lichen fragments from across 2 vice counties between 1965 and 1970, it’s far from simple.

Continue reading “A crypt full of Rose’s lichens | Identification Trainers for the Future”

If you go down to the beach today | Big Seaweed Search

This week HLF Identification Trainer of the Future, Anthony Roach, introduces us to the marvellous diversity of seaweeds on Britain’s shores and shows you how you can contribute to citizen science by recording them as part of the Big Seaweed Search.

Seaweeds are incredibly diverse and beautiful organisms. They are strong biological indicators of the health of our environment and play an important role in the marine and coastal environment, despite being perceived by some as drab, slimy, green and brown sludge hanging from the rocks or smelly dried husks that litter the high tide mark. The Museum’s seaweed researchers and staff at the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity are therefore encouraging everyone to learn more about seaweeds, to map their diversity and assess how they are responding to climate change through the Big Seaweed Search.

Photo of Anthony stood on rocky shore by the sea, holding a large, long, brown seaweed in two hands.
Anthony Roach searching for seaweeds, holding sugar kelp. © Holly Morgenroth.

I grew up near the coast in Devon and I certainly over-looked seaweeds when whiling away countless hours rock pooling. I would slip and slide my way over seaweed covered rocks in search of the jazzier or more colourful marine stars of the rock pool such as crabs, starfish, sea anemones and blennies. I have discovered however that there is so much more to seaweeds than at first meets the eye.

Continue reading “If you go down to the beach today | Big Seaweed Search”

At the Centre of Museum citizen science | Take Part

The home of the Museum’s citizen science programme is its Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity, where we develop a series of surveys and activities that enable anyone in the UK to contribute to the Museum’s scientific research.

But the Centre has a wider purpose to support both new and experienced naturalists to develop their skills, meet like minded people and, together, develop new knowledge about the UK’s biodiversity (the diversity of it’s wildlife) and geodiversity (the diversity of it’s rocks, minerals and fossils).

Photo showing a lateral view of the bee
A brown-banded carder bee (Bombus humbles). The image has been taken using the photo-stacking equipment of the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiverisity

The Centre provides workspaces, meeting rooms, microscopes, high specification photo stacking equipment (for photographing small specimens), books and identification guides to support people of all abilities to explore and study natural sciences in the UK. It’s free to book a visit and the Centre hosts over 1,000 visitors every year, ranging from individuals and groups to natural history societies.

Continue reading “At the Centre of Museum citizen science | Take Part”

What to look out for in July | Orchid Observers

For July, the Orchid Observers team are simultaneously excited and fretting. We’re excited because we’re planning field trips to see the next orchids on our hit list, but we’re also concerned about the flower spikes scorching in the sun and wilting. It might be a race against the sun this month to catch July’s finest orchids. Not only that but this month’s highlight species are some of the trickiest to spot and identify. Please don’t let this deter you, take up the challenge and see if you can locate and photograph these beauties.

Bog orchid (Hammarbya paludosa)

The bog orchid (Hammarbya paludosa) is the tiniest of the UK orchid species. © Mike Waller.
The bog orchid (Hammarbya paludosa) is the tiniest of the UK orchid species. © Mike Waller.

Being the tiniest of the UK orchids, the bog orchid can be rather inconspicuous. It’s just 4-8cm tall and green and there are only 25 flowers on the flower spike, which are said to smell sweet and cucumber-like. Continue reading “What to look out for in July | Orchid Observers”

What have the Orchid Observers been up to? | Orchid Observers

Kath Castillo, Project Officer for Orchid Observers, gives an update on what’s been happening with the project so far:

It’s been a busy time for Orchid Observers! The project got off to a great start when the website went live on the Zooniverse platform on 23 April; the very first of the season’s field records was uploaded on day one!

The Orchid Observers Team
The Orchid Observers team. From left to right: Jade Lauren Cawthray, Jim O’Donnell (Zooniverse web developer), Lucy Robinson, Mark Spencer, John Tweddle, Kath Castillo, Chris Raper and Fred Rumsey

At the time of writing this blog we now have 567 registered users on the website who have enthusiastically completed 11,044 classifications, by verifying and transcribing data for our historical specimens and identifying species and flowering stages for around 700 photographic records already submitted by participants.

Continue reading “What have the Orchid Observers been up to? | Orchid Observers”

The Identification Work Begins! | Identification Trainers for the Future

This month it is the turn of Katy Potts to give us an update on the progress of the trainees on the Identification Trainers for the Future project. Since Anthony’s review of their first month with us the trainees have progressed onto Phase 2 of their programme, where their species identification training really starts in earnest and we’ve certainly been keeping them busy! The past two months have been both exciting and enlightening in educating us about the world of biological recording and species identification. It was while I was at Plymouth University that I first discovered species identification in an invertebrate taxonomy module with the ever inspiring entomologist Peter Smithers. It was under Peter’s guidance and teaching that I fell in love with the six legged insects that run our world. Moreover, it was the passion for taxonomy from Peter that inspired me to delve into this field of biology.

Sally and Katy hunting for bryophytes at Burnham Beeches
Sally and Katy hunting for bryophytes at Burnham Beeches

The past two months have been fantastic. We are currently in Phase 2 of our programme where the core identification workshops, Field Studies Council placements and project work are taking place. Continue reading “The Identification Work Begins! | Identification Trainers for the Future”

Native and non-native bluebells | Bluebell Survey

Sally Hyslop, one of the trainees on our Identification Trainers for the Future programme, gives an update on the results of our 9-year-long Bluebell Survey:

The arrival of bluebells each spring is an iconic sight. The floods of nodding colour characterise our ancient woodlands, support a commotion of insect life and make up an important part of Britain’s natural heritage. Our native bluebell species is widespread in Britain; in fact half of the world’s population is found here. But the introduction of non-native bluebells, planted in our parks and gardens, may be threatening our native species.

Bluebells are iconic to our woodlands. © Mike Waller
Bluebells are iconic to our woodlands. © Mike Waller

The introduced Spanish bluebell is deceptively similar to our native species, except for a few subtle differences in its features. It is broader in size, its petals flare out a little more, and the pollen is not white, but characteristically blue.

Spanish bluebells can breed freely with our native species, creating a hybrid plant with features from both species. Since the Bluebell Survey started in 2006, citizen scientists have been carefully identifying bluebells across Britain and recording the whereabouts of native, non-native and hybrid forms. This helps us to investigate these changes.

Continue reading “Native and non-native bluebells | Bluebell Survey”

Glimpses of the wonderful | Identification Trainers for the Future

Our trainees on the Identification Trainers for the Future project have now finished Phase 1 of their programme and are busy working on Phase 2. During Phase 1 they had the opportunity for a fantastic introduction to the work and collections of the Museum as well as an introduction to biological recording and collections principles.

In Phase 2 they will be focussing more on their identification skills through a series of workshops as well as getting involved in the work of the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity. In this blog post Anthony gives an overview of their experiences in Phase 1 as well as looking forward to some of the work he will be doing in Phase 2.

Prior to starting on the ID Trainers for the Future programme, I have already been lucky enough to work at the Museum as a Science Educator for over 4 years and, through my new role as a trainee in the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity, I have been given the opportunity to develop new skills, gain experience of practical field work and wildlife recording. Most of all, I have glimpsed the wonderful – exploring the Museum’s scientifically, historically and culturally significant collections behind the scenes.

ID Trainees and colleagues from the AMC discovering the Hans Sloane Herbarium
ID Trainees and colleagues from the AMC discovering the Hans Sloane Herbarium

I couldn’t have asked for a better welcome in the AMC, and the programme for the first phase has been a thoroughly engaging mix of professional development and collections-based training. Besides learning the craft of pinning and identifying insects, I have recieved training on organising field work, field work first aid and how to handle and use biological data with expertise from the National Biodiversity Network.

Continue reading “Glimpses of the wonderful | Identification Trainers for the Future”

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”