Amgueddfa Blog: Community Engagement

“Codi i’r Wyneb - Brought to the Surface” is a project on freshwater snails led by the Museum’s Department of Natural Sciences, supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund. Since our last blog in January, our project has grown from its wellspring in the collections to spill over into the outside world.

This, being midsummer, is pond-dipping season. Fieldcraft is so important to being a good naturalist, and also a good curator. No matter how good the collections, ID guides or apps, there is no substitute for finding things in their natural environment first-hand. So far we have identified and recorded snails from over 50 water bodies in South Wales alone, often with the help of local people and volunteers. As well as being good education for us, this has helped provide data and specimens from less well-studied areas, such as the lakes at Blaengarw, and the Neath Canal at Tonna, and the River Ely. We’ve also followed up a number of historical records to see whether species are still present. In a neat symbiosis, Alice Jones from Cardiff University has also been helping us out as part of her search for snail parasites and their microscopic predators. Lest anyone fear this is a Cymrocentric project, we’ve also been collecting in South-west England, and are heading East soon!

Back at National Museum Cardiff and with the help of the Exhibitions team, we installed our display in the Insight Gallery in time for the Easter school holidays. (In fact, all the displays in Insight have recently been refreshed, so it’s well worth visiting if you haven’t for a while). It features a variety of showcasing the diversity and importance of freshwater snails. To help bring the small shells of the Welsh species to life, we made magnified models of the living animals, approximately 1000 times actual size. These are shown alongside some grapefruit-sized tropical Apple Snails (the world’s largest freshwater snails), and their eye-catching bright pink eggs. The display also includes a mini-diorama of a British river, and a slideshow of images of the project’s progress. One thing which proved surprisingly hard to obtain (in Cardiff!) was an authentic-looking miniature of a sheep, so we made our own. The sheep is there to illustrate the life-cycle of the liver fluke - a big problem for British agriculture, yet one that hinges on tiny freshwater snails.

Since our last update we’ve taken part in public events including “Museums After Dark” and “Fossils from the Swamp”, and even appeared on the Radio Wales Science Café programme. The big one for us was our first Snail Day training course in late April, where we put our draft identification keys to the test. Held at Gwent Wildlife Trust’s Magor Marsh reserve, we are very grateful to the 8 members of the public prepared to be our guinea pigs, while learning as much about the 40 species as we could fit into a day. Our second Snail Day, at the “Aqualab” of the National Botanical Gardens in Carmarthenshire, was also a fully-booked success with thanks to the infectiously enthusiastic Paul Smith and our stalwart volunteer Mike Tynen, who helped amaze some visiting cub scouts by juggling a leech. The fish-free lakes at the Gardens have a huge biomass of snails!

Keen to join in? Our third Snail Day is on the 29th June, at the RSPB’s Ynys Hir reserve near Machynlleth, once used as the base for the BBC’s Springwatch. If you’d like to take part, please email harry.powell@museumwales.ac.uk. On Twitter, follow @CardiffCurator for the latest updates.

Each week, hundreds of people will walk through the front doors of the National Museum Cardiff. Yet despite visiting the exhibitions on display, many will be oblivious to what goes on in the background. Conducting a work experience placement at the museum gave us a rare insight into how much work and effort goes on behind closed doors.

 

With the intention of creating a video for the Saving Treasures, Telling Stories project, we were taken on a tour around the archaeology department on our first day of placement. We were fortunate to be shown around the stores, where many remarkable items were kept for preservation and research. Some of the items we viewed were Roman and prehistoric pots, vases and burial urns, which allowed us to explore how communities and cultures operated thousands of years ago.

 

The following day we attended Cyfarthfa Museum in Merthyr Tydfil, which is to acquire a hoard of five Roman Denarii, with thanks to funding from the Saving Treasures project. We filmed museum staff and the finders of the hoard, and heard about its significance. It was great to see the enthusiasm of the metal detectorists who discovered the hoard, and how proud they were of their achievement.

 

We spent the next few days editing the video together back at the University of South Wales campus. This proved to be a difficult job, as there were so many great shots to choose from, so it was difficult to decide which to cut out. However, the staff were always on hand to answer any questions we had and help out where possible.

 

Working at the National Museum Cardiff was a wonderful experience, and we were able to appreciate just how much work goes on behind closed doors to create the exhibitions we see. This work and research has helped us to understand history and past cultures in greater detail, and we would like to thank all the staff for their friendliness and a great week.

"If you asked me what a magelonid was 18 months ago, I would have looked at you with a somewhat muddled expression. Let me tell you, a lot has changed since then. Roll onto the present day, after a year at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales for my Professional Training Year (as part of my Zoology degree at Cardiff University), I could talk for as long as you are willing to listen about this fascinating family of marine bristle worms, commonly known as the shovel-head worms (Annelida: Magelonidae)."

            When my application was first approved from the Natural Sciences Department at the museum, I didn’t know what to expect. I had always loved anything marine and knew from the start this is the area I wanted to build a career around. This was a very broad declaration and beyond this, I was rather diffident in what I wanted to pursue. Therefore, my number one priority was to keep an open mind and make the most of everything the experience would offer. This view shaped a year filled with opportunities, that has not only been indispensable in developing my scientific skills in both hands on research and writing, but also in giving me a direction I am interested in for the future. 

            The majority of the placement involved both behavioural and taxonomic studies on European magelonid species, through the practicing of methods such as time-lapse photography, live observation, scanning electron microscopy, high definition photography using a macroscope, and taxonomic drawings using a camera lucida attached to a microscope. As a result of this work, some very interesting findings were highlighted for the Magelonidae, with important implications for furthering our understanding of these enigmatic animals. Perhaps the most fascinating arose through extensive time-lapse photography and observing animals in aquaria within the marine laboratory, in which an un-described behaviour emerged in the tube dwelling species Magelona alleni. Later termed as ‘sand expulsion’, this behaviour was a highly conspicuous method of defecation where M. alleni would turn around in a burrow network, raise its posterior region into the water column and excrete sand around the tank. Just knowing I was most likely the first person to ever witness this was a very rewarding experience in itself! To understand why this novel behaviour was exhibited, the posterior morphology of M. alleni was compared to additional European species. These findings have led onto my first publication in a peer-reviewed journal, of which two more papers and an article are due to follow as a result of working closely with my supervisor throughout the year.

I also got the opportunity to participate in tasks that are essential to the upkeep of the museum, such as curation, specimen fixation and preservation, along with invertebrate tank maintenance. Additionally, I participated in sampling trips, including a visit to Berwick-upon-Tweed and outreach events, such as ‘After Dark at the Museum’, which saw over 2,000 visitors, and the RHS show Cardiff.   

            Overall, the museum is a very friendly, intellectual and dynamic environment that has more to offer than perhaps meets the eye. This is why anyone who wants to study the small, whacky and wonderful world of marine invertebrates should not pass up an opportunity to undertake a placement here. Spend any prolonged amount of time amongst the hundreds of thousands of specimens kept in the fluid store, and I guarantee you will not be able to escape a visceral appreciation of the natural history of our world. With this comes a feeling of preservation for all we have and a reinforcement of why museums are such a crucial component of our society today, something that is too easily forgotten. 

Read more about Kim's journey through her PTY Placement at National Museum Cardiff:

https://museum.wales/blog/2017-08-04/A-new-world-of-worms---beginning-a-Professional-Training-Year-at-the-museum/

https://museum.wales/blog/2017-11-15/A-tail-of-a-PTY-student/

https://museum.wales/blog/2018-02-07/The-early-bird-catches-the-worm/

 

 

Over the past few months the museum has been working closely with colleagues at the beautiful Oriel y Parc gallery in St Davids to bring together an exhibition celebrating Wales ‘Year of the Sea’ called ‘Coast’.

The exhibition fuses artworks and natural science specimens specially selected by the Oriel y Parc team from Amgueddfa Cymru’s collections, and displays these alongside some of the recent museum activisim work of Amgueddfa Cymru’s 'Youth Forum Group' highlighting the issues of plastic pollution.

The multidisciplinary nature of the display explores how the sea has inspired artists for centuries, highlights the biodiversity of the Pembrokeshire coast, and how plastic now impacts on the environment and our everyday life.

Centre piece to the art works is Jan van de Cappelle’s masterpiece ‘A Calm’, surrounded by sea and coast inspired paintings from a selection of other artists including Cedric Morris and John Kyffin Williams. Amongst these works are specimens from the natural science collections capturing the richness of Pembrokeshire's wildlife, including the skeleton of a leatherback turtle found dead on Skomer Island in 1988.

The turtle had in the past been on display at the visitor centre on Skomer, but was removed a number of years back when the buildings on the Island underwent redevelopment. In need of some repairs and cleaning, the specimen became an excellent project for one of our conservation student placements at the museum, Owen Lazzari. The end result has enabled us to bring the specimen back to Pembrokeshire to form one of the centrepieces of the exhibition.

Other highlights from the natural science collections include one of our historic Blaschka glass models dating from the late 1800s, and a Goose barnacle covered builder's helmet found off the Welsh Coast.

Further information can be found on Oriel y Parc's website: https://www.pembrokeshirecoast.wales

 

Hi, I’m Thea, a sixth form student from Shropshire who decided to create this short video as part of my work experience at the National Museum Cardiff.

I had heard about Who Decides? before I became involved in the exhibition, so I was very eager to find out more. After working with the public opinion cards, speaking to the people involved in the museum and doing some short interviews, I created an animation that I thought would best reflect the aims of exhibition and the feedback it had received.

I am passionate about art and against the idea that art and museums are ‘elitist’ or should be for the ‘privileged’ rather than the majority, so I wanted to focus on this issue in the video.

Working with the Wallich

The exhibition itself was incredibly eye opening for me; the museum had decided to work with the charity The Wallich to involve people with experience of homlessness in the process of designing and creating the exhibit and gives the public the chance to choose some of the artwork on display. I haven't seen an exhibition that has ever taken this kind of approach, so I found it intriguing to see how others reacted to the idea.

I hope this refreshing approach to curation will be an archetype for future exhibits and museums because it challenges what we usually connote with galleries and exhibits and hopefully encourages more people to visit exhibitions and museums.

Who Decides? is on show at National Museum Cardiff until 2 September 2018. You can also contribute to Who Decides? by voting for your favourite work to be ‘released’ from the store and placed on public display.