Amgueddfa Blog: Volunteering

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!

Beginning my journey into science, starting 450 million years ago!

Manus Leidi (PTY Student), 27 July 2023

Everyone has that favorite Christmas from their childhood, I bet you can picture yours now. Mine was when I was about eight years old. I woke up to find a small rectangular present underneath my pillow, not then realizing the butterfly effect this present would have on my life. Most kids that age would be wishing for Lego or superhero figures, and I did love Lego at that age, yet this present was none other than BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs series. I was hooked like a bee is to pollen, getting more and more lost in the land before time, the animals of today paling in comparison to the monsters that used to stalk our planet, wondering if one day I’d be able to discover and name my own.

Unfortunately, this dream was put on hold as I dealt with my terrible teenage years.  Impressing my peers became the centre of my life and being the dinosaur/science kid was not going to cut it. Once I had left school for college and grown up, considerably, I went back to my original passion, studying Biology at A level and then moving to a biology undergraduate degree at Cardiff University. 

Though I have studied biology for many years, I still had no actual experience in doing real scientific work. So, when the opportunity to partake in a professional training year (PTY) arose, I reached out with both arms. I applied for a placement at Amgueddfa Cymru-Museum Wales in Cardiff, and after a few weeks I embarked on a project with the Natural Sciences staff in the museum. This is where my journey into the scientific world begins, working on animals that perished over 450 million years ago.

The day I started my project in the museum felt a bit like a first swimming lesson, nervous but excited at the same time. Luckily for me I was put under the tutelage of the wonderful Lucy McCobb, a paleontology curator who had a vast knowledge and understanding of the time and fossils I would be working on. My first few weeks of the project were spent organizing nearly a thousand fossils by species, so that they could be transferred into drawers for easier access. The collection of fossils I had been assigned to work on was called the Sholeshook Limestone collection. These fossils were collected in South-west Wales by an amateur collector called Patrick McDermott, who graciously donated them to the museum so they could be further studied. 

My project over the year would be to curate the collection, organizing and documenting it, as well as to help identify a possible new species. The animals I would be focusing on from this collection are a group of archaic, marine arthropods known as trilobites. These creatures are some of the earliest known fossils, first appearing around 520 million years ago in the Cambrian period and lasting almost 300 million years, before going extinct with 90% of all other life in the end Permian mass extinction. 

But why trilobites? Most people overlook the arthropods of today in favour of more impressive animals. Trilobites, however, have proved vitally important to scientists in the study of evolution. Firstly, trilobite fossils are one of, if not the most, abundant fossils of their age. This is due to trilobites being amazingly successful as a class, having a hardened exoskeleton which they moulted off regularly and many species living in shallow coastal environments, both features that increase chances of fossilization massively. In fact, they have been so useful that entire evolutionary studies have been conducted on them, such as Peter Sheldon's important study of over 15000 trilobites from mid Wales in the 1980s, which resulted in an eye-opening paper shedding light on evolutionary trends based on trilobites. Excited by my prior reading, and especially the prospect of helping discover a novel species, I was eager to begin my project. 

Once all the fossils were sorted, my first task was to select the best specimens from each species to photograph. Photographing the specimens is very important as this will eventually allow them to be uploaded online and in turn, become accessible to many more people, including scientists and the public alike. 

Once this was all completed, it was time for my favourite part of my project so far, helping discover a new species! This has always been a lifelong dream of mine, although when younger I did hope I’d discover the biggest dinosaur ever, and I couldn’t wait to get started. I gathered all the fossils of the suspected new species; each specimen, over 250 in total, needed to be worked on in a number of ways. First, they had to be sorted according to which part of the body it represented.  Luckily trilobite exoskeletons tend to break into consistent parts (head, thoracic segments, tail) so this part was not too difficult. Second came the most time-consuming part, examining their features in detail under the microscope, making observations and taking multiple measurements of each specimen - like the initial sorting, this process took a few weeks but was vital, as these measurements are used to distinguish our species from others in the genus.

Once all the raw data were collected, along with Lucy, we compared our species with every other known species in the genus. This was not as easy as it first seemed.  The well-known species were rather quick to distinguish based on their different features, however, some species are not even given full species names, as only one poorly preserved fossil has been found. Comparing these fragmentary fossils to our species was taxing, especially when the papers some of these species were figured in are from the 1800’s or written in Russian! 

I am hopeful that this paper will be finished and submitted to a scientific journal before I begin my third year of my university degree. I believe this will be a huge help to make me more desirable to future employers. As well as curating and writing this paper, the museum has also given me other opportunities to help develop my scientific skills. This September, in fact, I will be presenting a poster on the project at the Paleontological Association annual conference, which I am beyond excited to do. 

Another area the museum has helped me develop is science communication. I was given the opportunity to produce trilobite spotter sheets to help the Welsh public in their fossil hunting. This involved me finding local and well-preserved fossils in the museum’s collections to photograph, laying these images out on the sheets, and working with Lucy to draft text about them. I was then able to present these sheets at a public outreach event, After Dark: Science on Show, where Lucy and I ran a stand, promoting the museum’s spotter sheets and inviting people to play a board game, which showed them how difficult it is for fossils to form. 

Having the opportunity to work in the museum has further solidified my passion for natural science, as well as giving me the tools to progress in the field post degree. I feel I have finally taken my first steps into the scientific world, rather than simply learning about other peoples’ discoveries. Being able to say that I have published scientific work before even graduating from university and knowing I can work with fellow peers in my workplace who have said they have appreciated me being here (they could be lying), has given me great self-confidence. I cannot stress how important doing a year in industry has been for me and would recommend it to any other student. The insight and experience it will give you will in my opinion completely influence your future decision making. I implore any student with the opportunity to take a training year to ask yourself, do you actually know what it will be like or have any experience working in your field? If the answer is no, then a training year should be a MUST!

Finally, I would like to thank Lucy, Caroline and Jana, as well as all the staff in Natural Sciences that have helped me this year. I feel prepared to take my next steps into science and that’s all because of the help everyone has given me. 

Patchwork of Memories – Remembrance and grief during Covid 19

Loveday Williams, 13 July 2022

In 2020 Amgueddfa Cymru and Cruse Bereavement Support Cymru came together to support people across the country through their grief and create a lasting memorial full of memories to those lost during the time of Covid-19. It involved creating a square patch containing a memory of a loved one, in which ever way people chose, in whatever words or images they liked. Each patch created demonstrated a visual display of lasting memories of someone they loved who had died, created in unprecedented times.  50+ patches were sent to the Museum and have been carefully sewn together to form a Patchwork of Memories.

For the last two year we have all lived very different lives, with change to our normal the only constant. Losing a loved one is always hard but usually we have the comfort of others and collective mourning at funerals to help us say goodbye and share our memories.  However, a death in the last two years has meant many of us being cut off from our support networks and our rituals or remembrance being altered.  

Rhiannon Thomas, previous Learning Manager at St Fagans said about this project “Helping people with grief is something that I am personally passionate about. Having worked with Cruse Bereavement Support previously to support families I felt the Museum was able to help families dealing with loss in a different way.  Amgueddfa Cymru and Cruse Bereavement Support Wales came together to create a project based around creativity and memory, the aim being to make a lasting memorial to those who have died during the pandemic.” 

Creating something is not a new response to grief, there are several Embroidery samplers in Amgueddfa Cymru’s collections made in memory of loved ones or marking their passing.   This sampler by M.E. Powell was created in 1906 in memory of her mother.   Creativity during difficult times of our lives can help all of us to express deep held emotions that we do not always have the ability to put into words. 

Bereavement Support Days

Alongside the Patchwork of Memories initiative, the Cruse / Museum Partnership also provide a safe inspirational space for the increasing numbers of children and young people awaiting bereavement support and help meet the diverse needs of bereaved children, young people and families who benefit from coming together to rationalise, explore and understand that they are not alone in their grief. 

A series of quarterly Bereavement Support Days are held in partnership with St Fagans, for children, young people and their families experiencing grief and loss. There is specialist support from Cruse staff and volunteers along with art and craft activities provided by Head for Arts and immersive Virtual Reality experiences provided by PlayFrame, which are light-hearted, allowing people attending the chance to make and create things that can be taken home with them and or captured and stored into a virtual memory box. The activities available are designed to stimulate rather that prompt.

Here is the film created by PlayFrame on Ekeko, the virtual memory space they have been creating alongside this project, installing objects, memories and stories donated by participants into a virtual memory box for people to enter and explore: 

And a link the virtual reality memory space itself:

Alison Thomas, Cruse CYP Wales Lead said “Cruse Bereavement Support Wales provides in person support to children and young people within a variety of settings, so we see first-hand how difficult it can be for grieving children and young people. Their collective support on these days allows families the time and space to verbalise and begin to understand their loss and associated emotions. The focus of the Bereavement Support days is around children and young people, however, the benefits resonate through the whole family including the adults in attendance, some of whom require bereavement support on the day, most of whom stay for the duration and share a cuppa and chat with other bereaved parents and guardians. Following the session, the whole family can have a look around the Museum and spend time together in a safe and nurturing setting.”

Here are some of the written (in their own handwriting) evaluation feedback quotes from children, young people and parents / guardians who have attended the Bereavement Days:

'I feel calmer, less worried.  It was good being able to speak to people my age who understood what I'm going through.'

'I was very included in all the activities and was always involved in conversation.  There was a calm atmosphere making it easier to speak to people there.'

'I was very welcomed and was immediately approached by a friendly face.  It was very inviting and was easy to speak to people there.'


'Love ? happy'

'Thank you Diolch, Diolch ?'

A mother of one of the young people said 'I feel much better than I did.'

Another mother said 'All was lovely, made to feel welcome, everything we did was good and the girls enjoyed themselves.'

The two memory quilts will be competed by the end of August 2022, following which we will hold a final project event with Cruse Bereavement Support Wales on 25th September at St Fagans National Museum of History, where we will display the two quilts and invite both the contributors who sent squares and the participants from the Bereavement Support Days to attend, along with the public, to see the quilts and share their experiences of taking part in the process.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Nature Finds a Way

3 May 2022

The Recolonisation of Invertebrates on Restored Grassland:

I’m Alyson, a Professional Training Year placement year student from Cardiff University (School of Biosciences), currently working within the Entomology department at National Museum Cardiff under the supervision of Dr Michael R Wilson ( My interest in ecology, conservation and zoology ultimately led me here, and with no prior specialist knowledge in entomology (the study of insects) I jumped in at the deep end. Within a few months I was sampling in the field and identifying leaf- and planthopper species from Ffos-y-Fran (an open cast colliery site near Merthyr Tydfil). This  is currently undergoing the process of restoration so that it is converted from a colliery site to reseeded grassland.

Sampling in the field at Ffos-y-Fran in July 2021

Samples were then frozen and analysed along with samples taken in 2017-2019

Sorting invertebrate samples using a microscope and forceps into labelled tubes of ‘Hemiptera’, ‘Coleoptera’, ‘Diptera’ and ‘Assorted’ before storing specimens in 80% alcohol for preservation

Identifying and analysing over four years of invertebrate samples, involved looking at 195 samples.  This took a fair amount of time but allows the rate of recolonisation over a 5-year period, total species diversity, richness, and population dynamics within the fields across the years and seasons to be calculated. Leaf- and planthoppers (Hemiptera: Auchenorrhyncha) were chosen as models within this study as they are frequently common within grassland environments and can be used as an indicator of recolonisation progress on man-restored environments and ex-colliery spoil sites. Colliery sites are a common landscape visible across the UK, especially in the south Wales valleys. Their ecological importance and possible biodiversity are often overlooked, however work by Liam Olds (formerly Natural Talent apprentice at Amgueddfa Cymru), continues to highlight this through the Colliery Spoil Biodiversity Initiative (

The 195 samples were sorted into tubes labelled as ‘Hemiptera’, ‘Coleoptera’, ‘Diptera’ and ‘Assorted’

Further sorting of the Hemiptera samples to species level in order to record population and gender numbers

I am currently in the process of analysing this huge data set and creating a report to show the findings. However, in summary, the data has shown a trend of increasing diversity of hopper species within the field since it was reseeded. In total, 33 species were identified from the site – highlighting the ecological importance these habitats hold. Interestingly, grassland species generally uncommon to the area such as the planthopper Xanthodelphax flaveola and the leafhopper Anoscopus histrionicus, were abundant across the site leading to interesting discussion points as to why this environment encourages their colonisation. Other observations and discussions have also arisen from different wing-morphologies (shapes) seen in specimens of the same species. For example, the discovery of long-winged females of Doratura impudica, which are commonly a brachypterous species (short or rudimentary wings) encourages thought on arrival and colonisation methods of certain species, which could potentially help analyse other environments under recolonisation and ‘rewilding’ programmes. 

Uncommon species of grasslands in the area, leafhopper Anoscopus histrionicus (male specimen) were observed frequently at Ffos-y-Fran.

Uncommon species of grasslands in the area, planthopper Xanthodelphax flaveola (male specimen) were observed frequently at Ffos-y-Fran.

Long-winged morphs of Doratura impudica, a brachypterous species (short or rudimentary wings), were observed infrequently across the site

Studying the recolonisation of hoppers at Ffos-y-Fran has allowed me to develop and gain numerous skills which I will take with me into my final year of university and beyond. Not only have I been able to improve on existing skills such as report writing and data analysis, but I’ve also had the opportunity to gain new skills such as invertebrate identification, mounting specimens and taxonomical drawing. I’ve also had the chance to use the Scanning Electron Microscopy and sputter coating, and I have also used the imaging equipment at National Museum Cardiff to create a ‘species guide’ of the 33 observed at Ffos-y-Fran to supplement the report and provide a visual aid. Within my first few months at the museum, I was also able to get involved in a data collection project run by Dr Alan Stewart (University of Sussex), analysing specimens within the Auchenorrhyncha collections to create spreadsheets for the eventual creation of species distribution maps as part of the UK Mapping scheme for this insect group. There are so many opportunities and experiences to be had within the museum!

Looking through the collections and understanding the role of a collections manager

Gaining experience in imaging by photographing Fijian spittlebugs in preparation of redescribing and describing new species

My time with Amgueddfa Cymru has been amazing, conducting research and joining the Natural Sciences team, and has solidified my desire to pursue a career in research. I believe my placement has given me a great start for a future career with the skills I’ve gained and developed through my work on Ffos-y-Fran and my secondary research project. The second project I am currently working on in collaboration with Dr Mike Wilson will provide an up-to-date redescription and description of new species of Fijian spittlebugs with the aim of publication of my first peer-reviewed scientific paper. Watch this space to find out more on the latter project …. 

Taxonomy- A dying science?

29 April 2022

As a Biological Sciences student I am very familiar with the concept of classification and evolution, having been taught about it from primary school level. The idea of using a filing system to organise species became common place at secondary school level. Constantly reciting the Linnean system and its eight levels of taxa (domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species) for exams and coming up with rhymes and mnemonics to remember it in class. 

Museum scientist in the DNA lab

Due to this I was vaguely familiar with taxonomy, I knew what it was and why it was important, as I describe below. However, we never truly explored taxonomy in any great detail, especially in a modern context, and so I never thought about it as a career many still do today. That was until February of 2020 when I was searching for placement opportunities for my Professional Training Year as a part of my degree at Cardiff University, and I came across an opportunity to undertake at National Museum Cardiff exploring taxonomy. I now have a much greater understanding of taxonomy’s importance and unfortunately the crisis it might be facing.

What is taxonomy?

Taxonomy is the science of naming, describing and classifying species, including species new to science. It is the foundation stone of biological science. The first step in understanding how many species we have, where they live, and what they look like so others can identify them. For example, it can be an early indicator of evolution, and in seeing how the morphological characteristics of species may help in adapting and surviving in their environments. 

Some tools for taxonomic drawing for a species of shovelhead worm (Magelonidae)

Why is taxonomy important?

To understand the great diversity of the world we must know what is in it, and so taxonomy is essential in beginning to describe distributions and habitats of species. This will help scientists determine for example, whether a species is under threat, or the presence of an invasive species that can threaten other species and as a result their ecosystem. Scientists need to know all of the species in an environment, all described in a standardised manner that can be understood by those from around the world no matter the language spoken. This is so that they can begin to understand how to help preserve biodiversity and help the planet. 

Taxonomy is essential in aiding communication between scientists by giving a species a binomial scientific name. Many species will have many differing common names, for example Puma concolor, also known as the puma, cougar, panther, mountain lion, catamount, etc. in fact, P. concolor has over 40 common names in English alone. A binomial name (often in Greek or Latin) reduces confusion by surpassing language barriers and avoiding differing common names.

Puma concolor CC BY 2.0

Taxonomy is also the first step in identifying species that have the potential to help people, to that end, the species related to them which may possess similar qualities. 

Truthfully, it is not known how many species share the planet with us. The most commonly cited number is 8.7 million species, however, this number ranges from five to ten million species. Either way taxonomists have only identified and described around two million species. Unfortunately, there will be many species that become extinct before we even know they existed. Scientists are unable to determine the rate of species extinctions or truly understand changes in biodiversity on a global scale because of the frightfully little knowledge of the species we share the planet with.

Importance of taxonomists

As mentioned, I mostly knew taxonomy as science undertaken in the past and if I did think of it in a modern context it was through modern techniques such as DNA barcoding. As a career opportunity for new biologists, taxonomy barely crosses the mind. It has been suggested that funding in taxonomic research is also on the decline, and that traditional taxonomy is too slow in producing research papers. 

Museum scientist in the DNA lab

But while using DNA to aid in identifications and for evolutionary relationships is no doubt useful, it is dangerous to remove all of the other “old-fashioned” techniques used for looking into morphological characteristics. Techniques such as drawing, AutoMontage imaging, scanning electron microscopy, written descriptions from observations, notes on habitat and distribution to name but a few. DNA analysis should be used to supplement the more traditional techniques, not replace them. There have been numerous examples in papers of errors in conclusions being made due to scientists looking at species from only a genetic point of view but having misidentified the species. To that effect integrative taxonomy has recently become a popular choice. It includes multiple perspectives such as phylogeography, comparative morphology, population genetics, ecology, development, behaviour, etc., so as to create the best descriptions and knowledge of species. 

After all, without taking the time to properly observe and describe a specimen you won’t truly know what the species looks like and how it uses its features to survive. How shall keys and field guides be properly constructed so that non-experts can identify species too? Without taxonomists how can the irreplaceable and valuable collections in our natural history museums be properly maintained and organised?

Imaging software used to image specimens, in this instance, the abdomen of a new species of shovel head worm

As I have experienced in my research on a relatively understudied family, mistakes have been made in identifications leading to false conclusions to be drawn, which has dangerous consequences for example in determining biodiversity. These false identifications may be enhanced by a purely DNA route into taxonomy. If taxonomy starts to die and fewer experts who truly understand a species exist who shall correct these mistakes and continue to document the rich biodiversity of the world?