The greatest hits,
Of nature amidst London’s bricks,
Yesterday and today, scientists and visitors are working together in the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Garden to record as many different plants, animals and fungi as possible. If you’re visiting today, come and join us outside (near the Orange Zone) and get involved in guided walks and surveys, or grab a plastic pot and and identification guide and go bug hunting!
These wildlife recording challenges are called BioBlitzes and we’ve run lots of them all over the UK over the past few years. A couple of years ago, when I was working with my friend Maria from Greenspace Information for Greater London to run the Brompton Cemetery BioBlitz, she happened upon the Poetry Takeaway at the Roundhouse in Camden and had an amazing poet, Laurie Eaves, write a poem for her completely off the cuff, about BioBlitz. It’s an awesome poem so I thought I’d share it here…enjoy!
The greatest hits,
Of nature amidst London’s bricks,
Who capture ants and plants on lists,
In our previous Wildlife Garden blog we reviewed some of the new, and some of the returning species last year, focusing mainly on moths and bees – with a small mention of beetles.
Eleven additional species of beetle were found in the Wildlife Garden in 2017 and here Stephanie Skipp, a former Identification Trainer for the Future, comments on some of these finds:
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…
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.
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.
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.
The meadow plants, red clover and meadow buttercup, mentioned at the end of our previous blog, are just some of the colourful species in our meadows and on hedgebanks at this time of year. Bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), meadow cranesbill (Geranium pratense), oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) have not only livened up our grassland habitats for us and our visitors, but they also attract and benefit bees, butterflies, beetles and flies.
Wildlife gardener and ecologist, Larissa Cooper explains:
This weekend, 17 and 18 June, is Open Garden Squares Weekend where you will be able to visit different gardens around London, many of which are not usually open to the public. The Museum’s Wildlife Garden will be taking part with activities and displays on offer for all; and this year we’ll be taking a closer look at the UK’s pollinators. Whilst we’re busily getting ready for this event, here’s a post for you all about some of the lesser-known pollinators, and some tips on how you can make your own garden pollinator friendly.
At this time of year, we find a ‘first flower’ of the season almost every day. Last week, a guelder-rose (Viburnum opulus) I had been watching closely in one of the hedges came into flower (nearly a month earlier than last year) and on the bank below it a columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris) came into flower joining greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea) wood millet (Milium effusum) and red campion (Silene dioica).
Just a couple of months ago when these plants were not even in bud we were completing our winter coppicing and hedge-laying programme. Coppicing continues on rotation. Some of the coppiced hazel is used for stakes and binders for hedges as illustrated below.
A few weeks ago as the hours of daylight were gradually lengthening, we were cheered by signs of spring growth through the decomposing leaf litter. The leaf tips of Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum), have been pushing up since the end of December, as well as the smaller spikes of bluebell leaves. First flowers are late this year, compared to the past few years. Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) flowered on 2 February, 11 days later than last year, and daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) appeared on 20 February – 17 days later than last year.
With few flowers in sight we have carried out surveys of common fungi and the distribution of these common species throughout the garden. Fungi forays are generally associated with autumn – the most productive months for larger fungi such as mushrooms and toadstools. However there are many attractive species present through all seasons and a search early in the new year can be rewarding.
A little over a month ago, the Museum applied for planning permission to continue with an ambitious transformation of its outdoor spaces. Drs John Tweddle, Paul Kenrick and Sandy Knapp of the Museum’s Science Group provide the background to the project and clarify its impact on the Wildlife Garden.
This week marks 21 years since the establishment of the Museum’s Wildlife Garden – a wonderfully green and diverse space tucked away in the western corner of our South Kensington grounds. Since then these habitats have been actively managed and have matured into their current condition.
The anniversary gives us a moment to reflect on how the Museum and its partners are contributing to inspiring people to look more closely at wildlife around them – something that’s a hugely important part of our jobs – and to look forward to how we can make even more of this in the future.