Amgueddfa Blog: Museums, Exhibitions and Events

The Roots of 'Unknown Wales': A Conference to Celebrate Welsh Wildlife

Ben Rowson, 20 September 2023

‘Unknown Wales’ is an exciting day of free public natural history talks held each autumn at National Museum Cardiff. It features top speakers from all over Wales, talking about their newest nature discoveries and projects. The talks are short and accessible, and often great fun!

First held in 2011, the bilingual event is a collaboration between Amgueddfa Cymru and the Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales. The conference is a popular highlight in our calendar, regularly attracting over 200 visitors in person and online. The Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre provides a impressive atmosphere in which to hear from people who work on the front line of natural history and nature conservation.

The event was initially created to meet two needs. The first was for a free public conference dedicated to the whole natural history of Wales. From the outset the intention was to cover Zoology, Botany, and Geology – three fundamental aspects of nature that aren’t always dealt with together. It aims to offer an event (and a platform) for everyone with an interest in natural history. The questions from the audience at the end of each talk give a flavour of the enthusiasm that’s out there, as well as the depth of each speakers’ knowledge! Held on a Saturday, the day is unusual in our events calendar in being aimed largely at adults (though anyone aged 12 and over can attend).

The second need was to emphasise that new discoveries are always being made, hence the name “Unknown Wales”. While the event always features famous Welsh nature reserves, familiar species, and well-worn conservation practices, we’ve always encouraged interest in frontiers. Many talks feature recent scientific discoveries (including those made at the Museum itself), or new approaches that are changing how people look at and live with Welsh nature. On occasion there has been controversy, as speakers grapple with the environmental issues and policies of the day. The variety of organisations and projects covered provide inspiration for those looking for career, study or volunteering opportunities in biodiversity.

In total over 80 speakers have helped build Unknown Wales into what it is, and to all of them we are most grateful. Particularly memorable talks include Tim Birkhead on birdsong evolution, Lynne Boddy on the diversity of fungi, Anne Bunker on Welsh seaweeds, and Derek Gow on beaver reintroduction (a situation that has changed drastically since 2011). TV celebrities Rhys Jones, Miranda Krestovnikoff, and Iolo Williams (twice!) have all taken part to lend their support to the initiative.

Subjects covered range from river pollution to heritage trees, caves, coal tips, dolphins, dinosaurs, and eDNA surveys. We have featured the latest updates on iconic species like Red Squirrels, Marsh Fritillaries, Natterjack Toads, and Manx Shearwaters. Plus, of course, the Glutinous Snail…an icon-in-waiting? Another good thing about covering the whole of Wales, including its more remote and quieter places, is that nearly everyone’s milltir sgwâr (square mile) has had a mention!

Several talks have come about through audience suggestions, helping the event evolve. We have sometimes toyed with the format, exhibiting specimens from the Museum collections, supplying goodie-bags, or holding a poster competition, book sale or quiz during the interval. The event moved online in the 2020 pandemic, before adopting the present hybrid event, which allows more people to take part.

Will there be more Unknown Wales to come? You bet! Welsh nature is always full of frontiers and mysteries, which move as times and techniques change. We look forward to the next event, and to many other opportunities to share these with other wildlife lovers.

Details for Unknown Wales 2023 are here.

Celebrating St. Fagans Heritage Welsh Apples

Luciana Skidmore, 8 September 2023

This year we celebrate our heritage Welsh apples by exhibiting samples of fruits that are sustainably grown in our orchards located in Kennixton farm, Llwyn-yr-eos farm, Llainfadyn and the Castle Orchard. You will find our Apple Exhibition at the Kennixton barn, next to the Kennixton farmhouse in St. Fagans.

Every year our apples are harvested to produce apple juice. The crop of 2022 was our most fruitful to date generating 400 bottles that were pressed by the Morris family in Crickhowell. You will find the St. Fagans apple juice available for sale at the St. Fagans Museum shop and Gwalia store.

For centuries apples have been grown in most parts of Wales, holding a cultural pride of place as a fruit of choice. They have been grown in cottage gardens, small orchards, smallholdings and farms.  The skills of pruning, grafting and tending the trees were passed from generation to generation.

After the second World War fruit growing suffered a decline.  Even the formerly widespread production of cider in the south-eastern area came to an end. Nowadays apples are imported from distant regions of the world and are available in supermarkets throughout the whole year. 

It is our mission to preserve our heritage Welsh apple trees for future generations. In the orchards of St. Fagans, you will find Welsh apple varieties such as ‘Monmouthshire Beauty’, ‘Gabalfa’, ‘Channel Beauty’, ‘St. Cecilia’, ‘Baker’s Delicious’, ‘Croen Mochyn’, ‘Trwyn Mochyn’, ‘Bardsey Island’, ‘Morgan Sweet’, ‘Gwell na Mil’, ‘Diamond’, ‘Machen’, ‘Llwyd Hanner Goch’, ‘Pen Caled’ and ‘Pig y Glomen’.

If you are coming to the St. Fagans Food Festival this year, please visit our Apple Exhibition at the Kennixton Barn.

Volunteering at the National Slate Museum

Chloe Ward, Volunteering Co-ordinator, 4 August 2023

What are the volunteering opportunities at the National Slate Museum? 

Getting people involved in volunteering at the National Slate Museum has been a priority since I began my role as Volunteering Co-ordinator here in May 2022. So what opportunities for taking part are there at the Museum?

Blacksmithing placement 
In December 2022 we excitingly welcomed Dai to the museum on a Student Work Placement. Dai was on a Welding and Fabricating college course, which requires students to partake in 20 days of work experience. He worked with Liam, our Blacksmith, in the historic forge in the Gilfach Ddu workshops and over the 20 days learnt how to make a bottle opener, a fire poker, and a pair of tongs. It was great to see his confidence and skills develop over the months he was here!

Skills Development Placements 
Last year we started Skills Development Placements in Llanberis, something that already exists at Cardiff National Museum. They are one day a week of shadowing the front of house team, providing invaluable experience for people who have barriers to work. We piloted the placement over the Winter 2022, and this year Aaron has just started a placement with us. He says he is looking forward to learning about the history and the opportunity to be part of a team. These placements are available almost all year round – please feel free to get in touch for more information.

Rag rug volunteers 
If crafting is your thing, helping us create rugs might be your motivation to volunteer! We have around 3 volunteers weekly in the Chief Engineer’s House, working on making rag rugs for our historic houses. Since they started in May they have had many interesting conversations with our visitors. Many of our visitors talk about how they used to make rag rugs with their grandparents when they were younger, albeit not everyone knows them as rag rugs! They are known by different names across the United Kingdom – we have learnt about 'proddy rugs', 'peg rugs' and many more!

What can we look forward to?  
We’re currently developing a few interesting roles in Llanberis... we will soon be recruiting for an Ambassador Volunteering Role, and a Machine Conservation Volunteering role! We will also be advertising a Heritage Student Work Placement in September for students looking for general experience in the heritage industry. Keep your eyes peeled!

Installing The Lost Words - Partnership in Action

Lisa Childs, 28 July 2023

In June of this year Ulrike Smalley, Aled Williams and I travelled to Trawsfynydd, Gwynedd, to assist in the installation of Geiriau Diflanedig -The Lost Words at Yr Ysgwrn. This shared exhibition is the result of a partnership between Amgueddfa Cymru, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority and Awdurdod Parc Cenedlaethol Eryri. 


Celebrating the relationship between language and the natural world, and the spark of imagination that can spring from it, this display of works on paper together with a small number of items could not be better suited to its location. Yr Ysgwrn’s cultural centre, housing a gallery, café and learning space sits in the stunning landscape of Eryri. A converted stable, it is part of the farmstead that was the home of Ellis Humphrey Evans, better known by his bardic name, Hedd Wyn. 

Raised a farmer, Ellis was encouraged in his poetry writing by his parents.  He won his first bardic chair aged 20 and would win a further four before his death nine years later on the Western Front. He died never knowing that he had achieved his ambition of winning the chair at the National Eisteddfod. The beautifully carved oak chair was transported by train and then horse and cart to his childhood home, where it has remained on public display ever since. Hedd Wyn remains a symbol of that lost generation of men who went to war and never returned. His former home, however, has remained a place of discovery, education and sometimes pilgrimage for those wanting to know more about his life and of the things he held so dear.

Hedd Wyn was often inspired by the beauty of his natural surroundings. The images created by artist Jackie Morris in Geiriau Diflanedig -The Lost Words draw on much of that same beauty, celebrating its presence and lamenting its potential loss. Her watercolour and goldleaf paintings focus on objects and creatures from nature including the magpie, conker, otter and wren, and are truly beautiful. The artworks are accompanied by poems written by Robert MacFarlane and translated into Welsh by Mererid Hopwood. 

Before our team could begin installing Geiriau Diflanedig -The Lost Words, the original stone walls of the gallery were faced with painted MDF board to hang the 25 works. Aled and Ulli discussed and organized the layout while I condition checked the items. With some assistance from Naomi and Kevin at Yr Ysgwrn, the works and the accompanying poetry panels were positioned and hung, sealed open-top school desks laid out with objects from the natural world, overhead lights adjusted, mirror plates covered and painted, vinyls adhered, floors swept, glass polished, and giant wicker dragonflies suspended from the ceiling.

We repeated the process at Oriel Y Parc gallery and visitor centre in St Davids in Pembrokeshire, where the other half of the exhibition is installed with the addition of specimens from Amgueddfa Cymru’s natural history collections.

If you are heading to North or West Wales over the next 9 months, please take the time to visit these sites. You will not be disappointed.

New English Learner Resources for Amgueddfa Cymru

Loveday Williams, Senior Learning, Participation and Interpretation Officer, 10 May 2023

Amgueddfa Cymru Museum Wales have been working with Refugees and Asylum Seekers, supporting people to integrate into their new communities for many years. 

As part of this work, we have developed partnerships with key organisations such as Addysg Oedolion Cymru Adult Learning Cymru. They have been working with us over the past year, alongside their ESOL students, to develop new ESOL learner resources designed to support people learning English to explore our museums and galleries. 

The new resources cover the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea, the National Slate Museum in Llanberis and the National Roman Legion Museum in Caerleon. 

The resources have been created by ESOL tutors and tested by ESOL learners. They follow the ESOL curriculum and cover a range of different levels from Entry to Level 2. 

Now that the new resources have been tested, tweaked, and trialed they are ready to download from our website for any ESOL learner or group visiting one of the museums. (See the links above). 

We also have a suite of ESOL resources for St Fagans National Museum of History which were developed in a similar way as part of the HLF funded Creu Hanes Making History Project in 2014. 

We continue to work with our partners and community members to provide meaningful opportunities for people facing barriers to participation in the arts and cultural heritage. 

We learn so much from the people who visit our sites and engage in the learning opportunities we offer. 

Supporting those people who are newly arrived in Wales to settle and integrate into their new communities is a very important area of our work and we hope that these new learner resources help many people on that journey. 

Diolch yn fawr to Addysg Oedolion Cymru Adult Learning Wales and the ESOL tutors and learners who have contributed to the creation of these new learner resources.