Amgueddfa Blog

From my recent musings you may have deduced that my research is centred around a beautiful group of marine bristleworms, which are given the name shovel head worms. Most people will be unfamiliar with shovel head worms, but they may have come across other marine bristleworms such as ragworms and lugworms used as bait by sea fisherman (the latter also being responsible for the casts of sand you see on sandy beaches), or the ornamental feather duster worms that people often keep in aquaria.

King Ragworm (photo by T. Darbyshire)

Lugworm casts and lugworm (photos by K. Mortimer and A. Mackie)

Feather Duster/Fan Worm, Sabella pavonina. Ornamental feather duster worms are often found in aquaria (photo T. Darbyshire)

 

Shovel head worms get their name from their spade shaped heads used for digging in soft sands and muds. They are found all around the world, generally in shallow seas. There are over 70 species known worldwide, but large gaps in our knowledge exist. One such area is the waters around Africa.

 

Back in 2013 I was approached by colleagues from the University Museum of Bergen to collaborate on investigations into shovel head worms off Western Africa. Investigations have shown us that there are at least 20 different species of shovel head worms in these waters, many of which are new to science. Since then we have been working hard to describe the new species, and the first of a series of papers has just been published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. This paper describes five new species of shovel head worms, present from Morocco to Angola.

Shovel head worm, Magelona mackiei named after Andrew Mackie, Honorary Research Fellow at Amgueddfa Cymru

One of the new species is named after Honorary Research Fellow at Amgueddfa Cymru Andrew Mackie (Magelona mackiei), another is named after zoologist and oceanographer Dr Fridtjof Nansen (Magelona nanseni), and a third is named after the Gulf of Guinea (Magelona guineensis) where the species was collected. The remaining two species are named for unique features of the animals: Picta from the Latin for painted, as this species carries distinct colouration (Magelona picta) and fasciata, meaning band, referring to the distinct stripy pattern along the length of the worm (Magelona fasciata)! 

Shovel head worm, Magelona picta, named for its ‘painted’ body

So, why is it important to study marine bristleworms and to describe new species? Marine bristleworms are a major constituent of the animals that live in and on the seabed. As such they are an important food source for many other animals, they are the ‘gardeners of the ocean’ and do similar vital ecological roles that earthworms do on land. They can also tell us a lot about the health and well-being of our oceans. Monitoring how well oceans are doing, depends on accurate identification of the species that live there. Sadly, for many regions even basic knowledge of what species are present is lacking. That’s where we step in to describe the diversity of life and produce identification guides for those who monitor how the seabed may change through pressures like climate change, fishing and dredging etc.

So, what have worms from western Africa got to do with Wales I hear you ask? Research on species outside of Welsh waters is vital to understand the species we have within them. In order to recognise a species new to science in Wales, or indeed and invasive species (which could have huge ramifications for native species) scientists need to have knowledge of species across the globe. This is particularly important given the changing climate and the increased transportation of species around the globe by human activities. We know very little about the distribution ranges of many marine bristleworms, but studies like this give us baseline information from which we can monitor changes as we move forward. Whilst several of the species in this investigation were found in very restricted regions, we have discovered that the European species Magelona alleni, a species first described in Plymouth back in 1958, and a common species here in Welsh waters is found all the way to the Gulf of Guinea, and it isn’t the only one either! We also know that several other species present in Welsh waters are present also off Western Africa, this will be covered in subsequent papers. Whilst we do not know how much the distribution ranges of species may have already been impacted by human activity, this is an important step in enabling the monitoring and protection of our seabed habitats here in Wales. 

Shovel head worm, Magelona fasciata, named for its stripy bands

The National Wool Museum Exhibition of Hope was launched in April 2020. This was of course during the beginning of the national lockdown and I think it is safe to presume that no one could have predicted how successful it would be!

With support from the Ashley Family Foundation and Community Foundation Wales, the aim was to collect enough 20cm or 8inch rainbow coloured squares in order to weave together a substantial rainbow blanket to be displayed in the National Wool Museum, and then eventually at the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea.

The idea of the rainbow colours was of course in accordance with the rainbow image, which during the national lockdown had became an important emblem.  The rainbow symbolised light at the end of the tunnel after a dark and uncertain time. The blanket would therefore hopefully become a symbol of peace, hope, community and spirit.

The project surpassed all expectations and collected in the range of 2,000 rainbow square pieces from all over the country. These squares were knitted, felted, woven or crocheted not only from wool, but from cotton, silk and other wonderful fibres that people had to hand.

 

 

Due to the overwhelming response and the restrictions placed on volunteers in meeting and creating one single blanket, a decision was made to make many blankets instead. As a result, museum staff and volunteers began joining the squares from home!

With now many blankets in the making, the project took off to a new level and purpose! Not only were these blankets going to become works of art, they would also be donated to charities, such as the homeless charity 'Crisis'. The project grew further when the South Wales branch of the 'Crisis' Charity shared the exhibition on their Facebook pages and even going as far as providing people with physical packs of wool and instructions.

The project further snowballed when it was featured in Adult Learners Week 2020, when two videos were released of National Wool Museum Craftsperson Non Mitchell showing how to create a felted and woven square.  Finally, maybe the biggest influence was when the Connect to Kindness Art Project, working alongside the Connect to Kindness Campaign and Carmarthenshire Association of Voluntary Services showcased the project in a collage of photos.

When I visited the exhibition recently, what I found fascinating is how, from humble beginnings, the project took on a life of its own and became more than simply helping create a blanket. Along with being beautiful pieces of art that could be enjoyed on their own merit, the blankets would now also help people in a physical and practical way!

In my opinion, what was lovely was how the exhibition has captured the array of positive feelings it had stirred in the volunteers and museum staff who took part in the project. I’m sure this was a somewhat unexpected or underestimated result of the project!

It was clear from the messages and notes received with the blanket squares, that it had brought many a sense of joy, achievement, comfort and a feeling of purpose. The blanket had brought people a sense of belonging and highlighted the feeling of community and what can be achieved when people "pull together" 

This is perhaps the most interesting factor of the project for me - the stories of those creating the squares. I am delighted that the exhibition is reflecting this by showing "stories of the squares" in a video to go along with the exhibition, which will also be available online.

I had the pleasure of watching the video when I visited the exhibition in Drefach Felindre, and it was amazing to hear of the different stories of those behind the squares. There were stories of the project uniting family and friends along with chapels and schools. The exhibition includes an image of rainbow hands by the children of Ysgol Penyboyr.

The effort which some had gone to was also amazing. A big shout out to Elwyna who knitted 350 squares!  One lady had even naturally dyed her wool in different rainbow colours.

One of the stories I found touching was of a lady who had recently lost her mother and who had left her a stash of yarn, mostly from America. Her mother had taught her to crochet and she felt the project was an amazing way to honour her mother's memory.

Crocheting also helped her deal with the grief during this time as she found it therapeutic and relaxing. Others also spoke of the art of crocheting and making the squares as being a therapeutic and relaxing process.

Another heart warming story was of how someone struggled with her memory and was overjoyed to discover that she remembered how to crochet.

These stories and indeed the whole exhibition being so visually bright and beautiful was very uplifting in what is still a fairly uncertain time.  The words of one volunteer perfectly summed up the meaning of the project for me - although we couldn’t "be together, we could work together".

The exhibition can be seen in the National Wool Museum of Wales until mid January 2022. A walk around the exhibition will also be available online. The Exhibition will move to Swansea’s Waterfront Museum in July 2022 - October 2022.

A lovely informal evening of cocktail making with Rob Jones, founder and editer of 'Blasus' Magazine. 'Blasus' is a bilingual, independent magazine, which aims to explore the stories, people and creativity behind the welsh food scene.

On the menu were the cocktails Cosmopoliton, Gin or Ange Crush and The Gin Fizz. The cocktails included vodka (five) from Penderyn, Blood orange and Rosemary Gin from Treganna Gin and a Welsh Sisters Gin.

I am not a cocktail connoisseur and I was a bit daunted that the cocktails would be complicated to make and that I would need an endless list of equipment and ingredients! This was farther from the truth, in fact the cocktails were easy to make and all I needed equipment wise was a knife, measurer, chopping board and if I didn’t have a cocktail shaker, I could use a flask! All three were in fact delicious and easy to make!

The concentration of the evening was of course on using Welsh produce and speaking directly to those who produced them. It was fabulous to hear about the various processes of distillation, the products themselves and of course about the people behind the products, especially as I do not have a lot of knowledge about the processes of making spirits! In fact, one of the facts I learnt was that all gins must contain juniper berries otherwise the drink can not  be defined as gin by law.

First up was Penderyn Whisky and spirits. Penderyn whisky is of course well known In Wales, but it is also well known all over the world and is available in 45 countries! On its way it has picked up over 70 double Gold/Gold/Masters awards! Such has been the success of their whisky and spirits, a new distillery opened in Llandudno in May 2021 and there are plans for a further distillery to be built in Swansea in 2022! Although it all began with whisky, they also do a fabulous selection of gin, rum, and vodka which was used in The Gin Fizz cocktail.

The succsess of Penderyn Whisky is impressive stuff considering it began with an idea by a group of friends in a pub in Hirwaun!  I suppose the pub is where most great ideas are dreamt up!  Whisky distilling in Wales was a lost art in the 1990's and this group of friends dreamed of creating a pure and precious Welsh whisky. They chose the village of Penderyn for its creation because of the supply of fresh natural spring water there.

We were told that one of the keys to Penderyn's success was the use of a single copper pot which enabled the all female distillery team to create a clean and flavourful spirit at an industry high of 92% ABV. This is very high in comparison to other distilleries who use the three pot lantern system which produces a spirit that comes off at a industry standard of 67% ABV.

At Penderyn, Whisky is aged and charred in the finest bourbon casts to remove any undesirable  chemical compounds and then is married with the water from the Brecon Beacons! A fabulous combination indeed!

Despite its amazing achievements, the Penderyn brand was no overnight success, it took over 12 years for Penderyn whisky to make profit! I guess good things do come to those who wait!

Next up was Mark Flanagan from Treganna Gin. A one man band with his wife helping with the "admin side" in a distillery in the surburban area of Canton, Cardiff where the gin is  distilled in small batches using copper alembic sills.

Mark was an actor and while finding that work was drying up decided in 2018 to embark on a gin making enterprise. He confessed that gin making was far quicker and a far less complicated process than whisky making!

All was going well with the business plan done, equipment bought and a website established. Then disaster struck- the pandemic! Instead of wallowing though, Mark decided to make hand sanitizer for the local community, seeing as he had the equipment to make it! This in turn gave him some positive exposure, which in turn helped him build his successful brand of gin.

Whilst thinking and experimenting with flavours he came up with the delicious combination of blood orange and rosemary gin. He went about to source the best oranges from Sicily, but again disaster struck when a volcano eruped in Sicily! Mark thought that this was the end of his Sicily orange dream! However, the oranges made it over even though his supplier did admit that they did initially "have some ash on them"!

From what began as a home project producing 20 bottles of gin at a time, a change of location and upgrade in equipment has meant that he is now producing 200 bottles in one go and even sells his gin at the St Ffagans National Museum History shop. You can also buy direct from his website with free delivery and free hand delivery in Cardiff! Mark admits that he prefers if you buy from him direct as he gets more profit this way!

 

Finally, Welsh Sisters gin, two sisters (Becky and Tania) originally from Cardiff, now create and sell award winning dry gin in a old draper's shop called Manchester House at the top of the town of New Quay in Ceredigion. Beginning in 2019, they now sell gin all over the world and their gin 'Morwyn' was awarded Best Contemporary Gin at the Welsh Gin Awards 2021.

The sea and the inspiring tales of women in their community is a huge influence and theme in their gin creations leading to gins named 'Morwyn', Portside and The Captain's Wife. Each gin has its own distinctive flavour and a unique story of women and their experiences of the sea.

The gin name 'Morwyn' was inspired by a sea goddess called 'Morwyn' who loved Rhysen a fisherman who dwelt in Ceredigion during ancient times. The gin Portside is in homage to the captain's wife who when pulled into port seeked her other sea sisters and spent time with them on portside. Whilst the gin The Captains wife is in reference to those Welsh woman from New Quay who sailed the world and who were even accomplished enough to take the ships wheel in the eye of a storm.

Their passion of the sea comes of course partly from growing up on the coast and from the experiences of their parents of the sea. Their father was a captain of square-riggs and windjammers in the West Indies. Whilst their mother was a descendant of the Kidwelly "wreckers" who looted ship wrecks.

In fact, such is their passion for the sea, they donate 1% of the sale each of 'Morwyn' and The Captain's Wife gin to the whale and dolphin conservation. Along with producing great gins these two sisters are leaving a wonderful legacy to the future of their beloved ocean.

And just like that it was the end of the session. An enjoyable, informative and relaxed evening with the added bonus of some lovely drinks! Next time you are after some spirits, please consider these Welsh made gems.

Hi Bulb Buddies, 

I hope that planting day went well and that you are enjoying documenting weather data for our investigation. 

I want to say a big thank you to you all for your hard work on planting day. Together we planted over 10,000 bulbs across the UK! Your fantastic planting day photos show that you had a great time.  

Weather records started on 1 November. There is a resource on the website with more information on keeping weather records. I’ve attached this here in case you haven’t already seen it. This resource helps you to answer important questions, such as why rainfall and temperature readings are important to our investigation into the effects of climate on the flowering dates of spring bulbs.  

Use your Weather Chart to log the rainfall and temperature every day that you are in school. At the end of each week, log into your Spring Bulbs account on the Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales website to enter your weekly readings. You can also leave comments or ask questions for me to answer in my next Blog. 

Let me know how you get on and remember that you can share photos via email or Twitter. 

Keep up the good work Bulb Buddies, 

Professor Plant 

 

Comments shared with the first week of weather data:

Stanford in the Vale Primary School: This week was frosty and we had some frost in the morning. We’re looking forward to seeing the weather changes.

Oaklands Primary: Hi Professor Plant - it's been a dry but cold week here in Aberaman. Our first frosty day on Monday, lovely sunshine after a very rainy Hallowe'en which washed away all our labels. Luckily, we know which way round our bulbs were planted and we decided as a class that we'd make sure we look after everyone's pots so it doesn't matter that they are not individually named at the moment. Phew! See you next week!

Ysgol Penalltau: Diolch am y bylbiau, ond dim glaw yr wythnos yma!

Pil Primary School: It has been very cold and dry this week.

Darran Park Primary: The weather is a lot colder and drier this week

St Josephs Cathedral Primary: No rain records as rain gauge was lost. We have found this now so will take records from next Monday.

Ysgol Gymraeg Dewi Sant: Roedd y glawiad yn uchel dydd Llun oherwydd fod llawer o law wedi syrthio dros hanner tymor.

With levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and global temperatures rising, tackling climate change is more important than ever.

 

As the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) takes place in Glasgow this week, uniting the world to tackle climate change, we’re taking a look at what we’re doing to make our museums greener.

 

In September 2019 we joined others in declaring a global climate and ecological emergency. Over the next 10 years and beyond, we’ll be reducing our carbon footprint and impact on the environment.

 

Our training

We’ve developed a training course on carbon literacy, accredited by the Carbon Literacy Project. Over 100 staff are now certified carbon literate, and we’re looking forward to rolling out the training to the rest of our staff over the next year.

We’ve also received Bronze Level Carbon Literate Organisation status for our training and we’re taking part in the first Carbon Literacy Action Day on the 1 November. As part of the training, staff made pledges to reduce their carbon footprint and you can find out more in this short video:

 

Our staff

To help us become carbon neutral, we’re in the process of recruiting a Sustainable Development Co-ordinator. They will shape our response to the climate crisis by developing our carbon management action plan, as well as our carbon reduction and green land management projects. We’re looking forward to sharing more with you soon!

 

Our ways of working

All our museums are currently undergoing a Carbon Audit, carried out by an Environmental Consultancy, GEP Environmental. The audit will tell us what our current carbon footprint is and identify new opportunities to reduce our carbon across our work. It will also help support the delivery of the Welsh Government’s ambition of achieving a carbon neutral public sector by 2030.

Our exhibitions and outreach
Climate change and sustainability will be incorporated into our public programming for exhibitions and learning. The upcoming Mining for Mobiles exhibition will look at the environmental impact of everyday objects such as mobile phones.

Our events
We’re always looking at ways that we can make our activities more sustainable. We’ll be again hosting our sustainability event Olion to empower others to take action.

 

Our engagement

Through our 700 volunteers and 100 young creatives (Amgueddfa Cymru Producers) we’re promoting carbon literacy through partnership working with young people. By working with communities we hope to create a greener Wales and make sure that everything we do is better for the environment.

 

Gold silhouettes with speech bubble saying Carbon Literate Organisation Bronze