Amgueddfa Blog: Blog

Spring Bulbs for Schools: Results 2005-2015

Penny Tomkins, 1 June 2015

The Spring Bulbs for Schools project allows 1000s of school scientists to work with Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales to investigate and understand climate change. School scientists have been keeping weather records and noting when their flowers open since October 2005, as part of a long-term study looking at the effects of temperature on spring bulbs.

Certificates have now been sent out to all of the 4,596 pupils that completed the project this year. See Professor Plant's report to view the finsings so far.

  • Make graphs & frequency charts or calculate the mean.
  • See if the flowers opened late in schools that recorded cold weather.
  • See how temperature, sunshine and rainfall affect the average flowering dates.
  • Look for trends between different locations.

I would like to thank all of the Super Scientists that participated this year!

Applications are now open for Spring Bulbs 2015-16.

Professor Plant


Through the Keyhole in Kennixton

Bryony Spurway, 22 May 2015

This follows on from Marsli Owen's blog.

When we decided to do an event called ‘Through the Keyhole’ I thought about the different things I could show people in the historic houses of St Fagans.  I wanted something that linked the past and present, so I chose tea drinking and based myself in the parlour of Kennixton farmhouse.

At Kennixton, the parlour is decorated in the style of the 1750s – you might recognise it as Captain Blamey’s house in the recent Poldark tv serial.  I decided to do the event in costume to help bring the house to life, and laid the table for tea as they would have done in the 18th century.   

Tea has a very exciting history, inspiring fashion, fortune, revolution, and crime.  It was brought to this country in 1657 by Catherine of Braganza, the Portuguese wife of Charles II.  A bit like the Kate-effect of today it swiftly caught on as a fashionable drink.

Like a lot of popular things, tea was taxed very highly by the government.  Some unscrupulous dealers would try and make tea go further by adulterating it with hawthorn leaves or even dried sheep poo!  To combat the high tax on tea, many people in Wales would have bought their tea from smugglers.  It’s possible the residents of Kennixton got their tea the same way.  It was originally built on the Gower coast so smuggled tea would have been easily available. 

It wasn’t just the Welsh who objected to paying the high tax on tea; the Americans didn’t see why they should pay it either.  They showed their feelings by throwing British tea into Boston harbour - the Boston Tea Party – which kick-started the American War of Independence in 1775.

I loved doing this event and it generated some really interesting conversations with visitors. Just doing some day-to-day activities in the house made it feel much more like a home. But I have to confess I was relieved to get out of the dress at the end of the day - the large skirts and tight sleeves were so restricting.  I finished the day wearing my comfy jeans and enjoying a mug of tea curled up on the sofa!

There will be one last blog next week to follow on by Heulwen, who will be talking about the Prefab.

Good things come in small packages

Christian Baars, 6 May 2015

Why are we concerned with boxes whose lids don’t close properly?

This is not just curators and conservators being pernickety; we really do have very good reasons to make sure that every closed box stays shut.

Museum collections contain a lot of valuable things that are easily perishable. Swords are made to be tough, but - believe it or not - even swords are not indestructible.

Iron rusts when it gets wet. Iron also rusts because of moisture in the atmosphere. Other metals can corrode in much the same way. If we are not careful we would end up with merely a bag of rust!

Therefore, we store all manner of sensitive objects (including cannonballs!) in what we call “micro-environments”. While many of our stores and galleries are air-conditioned, the humidity in the air is often too high to prevent these delicate objects from rusting.

Micro-environments are boxes or plastic pouches that contain one or several objects, plus a chemical that regulates the humidity within the box or pouch. This chemical is silica gel – if you have ever bought an electrical item the packaging probably contained a little sachet saying “Do not eat!”. The little granules in this sachet are silica gel. It is very widely used to keep things dry. Including in museums.

Once we have packaged our objects with silica gel we do not want moisture from the atmosphere to get into the box; that’s why we make sure the box closes properly. Only then will the objects be safe and dry, and ready for display or study.

To read more about our collections care work, go to our Preventive Conservation blog.

Adrian in the Amazon - final part

Adrian Plant, 1 May 2015

Our expedition has now drawn to a successful close. Our collections of several thousand specimens have (mostly) been successfully exported from Ecuador and initial analysis of them has started. Entomological expeditions to remote areas are great fun of course. However the less glamorous but harder work comes later, involving months or years of detailed study during which new species are described, evolutionary trees constructed, and ecological or biogeographic conclusions etc. are developed.

In the field there may be great excitement about finding a particular insect but to a scientist, the level of excitement can only grow as the real significance of the finding is revealed subsequently through painstaking study and reference to our already extensive collections. Already we have glimpses of results that might tell us more about how the insect fauna of the upper Amazon Basin came about. For example the unexpected presence of Cladodromia (a classic ‘Gondwanan’ genus) suggests there has been immigration from Patagonia whereas the high diversity of Neoplasta (which is essentially North American) hints at a south-bound migration along the Andes. On the other hand, an almost complete absence of Hemerodromia puzzles us as it is widespread in the lower Amazon so why didn’t we find it higher up? We suspect that the answer may be that it has only recently arrived in South America and is still spreading to Ecuador. Then again the unseasonal rains (due to a strong El Niño this year) may be a factor. Investigations continue.

In the field, our successes were often hard-won; difficult slogging through trying terrain, inclement weather, frustrating officialdom and many other factors sometimes worked against us it seemed, and intermittent access to the internet made writing these blogs challenging at times. We have been very fortunate in that our expedition was entirely and well-funded by the Brazilian Government as a part of their noble and ambitious efforts to understand the biodiversity of the Amazon. Our own exertions will plug one significant hole in knowledge and contribute to greater appreciation of Amazon biodiversity.

To read all of Adrian's entries, go to our Natural History Blog

Adrian in the Amazon - part 9

Adrian Plant, 30 April 2015

Back to civilization again - the regional capital of Loja, a small town nestled under forested Andean slopes and home to the regional Ministry of Environment where we must go once again, to obtain permission to move the samples we have collected back to Quito.

Unlike our previous brush with officialdom in Tena (our samples from there still have not been released!... but we have some local support to ensure that they eventually will be), the officials in Loja were helpful, polite and efficient! We had allowed 2 days to process the permissions in Loja, but in the event, we received our permits within 30 minutes, leaving us the best part of 2 days to explore the town and sample the local culture and cuisine.

Meanwhile, here are some more photos from our time in the field.

To read more about Adrian's travels, go to our Natural History blog page