April 14 2018 is Citizen Science Day, the start of a week celebrating all the amazing ways that people around the world contribute to science.
Citizen scientists are people like you and me, everyone from school children, to families, to dedicated volunteers, to local nature groups. Some go out into the wild to find and record nature, but you can even do science by joining projects at home.
Whilst Joe Beale and Wildlife Garden bird recorder Florin Feneru were focussing on birds, as reported in our previous blog, it was also a good time to take stock of other species we’ve seen. They may not be visible during the early part of the year, but were very much in evidence in the warmer months of 2017 and hopefully will soon reappear – in between the heavy rain showers and cold spells…
Our latest blog by Alex Mills from the current cohort of trainees takes a look back a few weeks to the BioBlitz in Tring, Hertfordshire:
‘What is it? What’s on me?’
‘Wow. It’s huge, Mum!’
‘Ah, cool. Hold still…’
Unconventional collection methods can work wonders during a BioBlitz. In this instance a mother accompanying her children on a minibeast hunt found herself functioning as a perfect interception trap for Stenocorus meridianus, a rather imposing longhorn beetle. The beetle was duly potted and admired. Everyone (including the mother/beetle trap…eventually) was transfixed by this magnificent beetle. And that was the order of the day at the highly successful Tring BioBlitz a few weeks ago: enjoyment and biological records, with kids and adults of all ages being transported by the natural world around them.
The warm, sunny days that alternate with the frequent, damp weather days this month release a burst of colourful insect activity for visitors to observe amongst the variety of habitats and flowering plants in the Museum’s garden. Joe Beale, who has recently joined the team, tells us more.
Late summer is a lively time in the Museum’s Wildlife Garden. On sunny days you may catch sight of some of our most impressive and colourful insects. Dragonflies that use the garden include the stunning green-striped southern hawker (Aeshna cyanaea), the impressive migrant hawker (Aeshna mixta) and the imperious Emperor dragonfly (Anax imperator).
They may buzz you to investigate, but tend to power up and down without stopping like little fighter planes, as they hunt flying insects around the meadow, hedgerows and ponds.
Our trainees on the Identification Trainers for the Future project are now well into Phase 2 of their traineeship. Phase 2 is the section where our trainees spend much of their time developing their species identification skills, working with our curators through a series of specialist workshops, as well as helping out in the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity with everything from the Identification and Advisory Service, to getting out and about at events. In this first blog from Phase 2, Steph Skipp gives us an overview of how the first half of the traineeship has gone.
To begin our workshop phase, the ID Trainers had a crash course in lichens. April was in her element, having previously discovered the wonders of peatland lichens whilst working in Exmoor National Park. In contrast, I think the rest of us were taken aback by how interesting lichens actually are!
The wealth of colours and forms were very visually exciting, especially under a microscope. After a trip to Bookham Commons, we came back to the lab with some specimens.
Our adventure on the Identification Trainers for the Future project has presented us with some amazing opportunities. One such opportunity was assisting in the filming of a BBC Four documentary – The British Garden: Life And Death On Your Lawn (if you are based in the UK, you may be able to catch it on BBC iPlayer if you are reading this shortly after publication).
Looking at garden wildlife over the course of a year the project spanned four seasons and compared three very different gardens, considering factors that promote a maximal level of biodiversity. The second cohort of ID trainers filmed in Summer, Autumn and Winter while we, the third cohort, assisted in filming the Spring phase of the documentary for a week in April and what a week it was!
While our visitors are being enchanted by large numbers of six-spot burnet moths on chalk downland and adjoining habitats in the Museum’s wildlife garden, less conspicuous species such as the Essex skipper butterfly (Thymelicus lineola) and garden grass veneer moth (Chrysoteuchia culmella) have been spotted flying low amongst meadow grasses and herbs. All three species rely on grasses at one or other stage of their life cycle.
Frances Dismore tells us more about the importance of grasses: Last summer, on donning the Museum wildlife garden volunteers’ T-shirt with the words “talk to me” emblazoned on the back, I hadn’t anticipated the number of discussions about grasses I’d have with young visitors to the garden. I attribute this to the sheep. Children would stop to ask their names and our conversations inevitably turned to the evident relish the sheep took in grazing the chalk hill and meadows.
Sheep graze the chalk downland and meadow habitats in the garden
Sheep graze the chalk downland and meadow habitats in the garden
I would proffer the speculation that it was an especially charmed existence to have a job guzzling grass seven hours a day and suggested that surely the children would agree since they themselves probably tucked into a heaped plate of grasses every day of the week.
This week we were out in our leafy grounds with Steph West of the Museum’s Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity. She talked to host David Urry about the wildlife in your gardens, from millipedes to stag beetles, and pond life to log life.
Steph will also be featuring in a BBC TV programme in the near future and we’ll have more news on that soon.
If you’re enjoying our this series of events, please leave us a review on iTunes or join us live on Facebook or Twitter to ask your own questions to our scientists.
Laura Sivess joined the ID Trainers group a little late, following the sad departure of another trainee, Billy, from the programme. That did however leave us with an opportunity to offer the place to our reserve candidate and we are delighted that Laura was able to accept at such short notice. Laura joined us at the start of April and was thrown rather unceremoniously into the Fieldwork First Aid course that the trainees were on. However, she almost instantaneously fitted in well with the established group of trainees.
I came somewhat late to the party beginning a month after my fellow trainees. How did this come to be, I hear you ask? One fateful Wednesday afternoon I received an email and then a call, a place had become available, would I like to take it? Heart thumping, there was no question – of course!
Like many of us I’ve always had an innate interest in the plants and animals we share our planet with. I’m told as a child I would gaze up at every canopy of leaves we passed and well, I guess I’ve never really stopped. I enjoy watching the sun illuminate the translucent leaves, the insects crawling on the bark, it’s tangible, it’s important and it’s in trouble.