Amgueddfa Blog

Nature Finds a Way

Alyson Edwards, 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 (researchgate.net). 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 (https://www.collieryspoil.com/about).

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?

Abbie Taylor, 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. 

Carl Linnaeus. The father of taxonomy. Carl von Linné by Alexander Roslin, 1775 (National Museum Sweden)

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?

 

Winter of Wellbeing: Tip Tops project

Mali Dafydd, 29 March 2022

Tip Tops was a project devised to up-skill young learners who are operating outside the current conventional school system, in the art of making clothes by hand, reusing waste and locally produced fabrics. They worked on a weekly process from mid January until 23 March 2022, cutting patterns and re-creating anew in Stiwdio 3, Cardigan. Here's the experience of Mali, who took part in the workshops: 

I was quite nervous when I walked into the room, for I didn’t know many of the people there. But then we all introduced ourselves and I felt a lot better as most of the people were my age. I was rather worried they would be a lot older than me.

When I first saw the pattern it looked very complicated, I had never followed a proper pattern before and I was a bit intimidated.

We were shown how it all fitted together and it was a lot simpler than it had looked originally - I was very glad! All the different panels that made up the pattern actually allowed you to experiment a lot. Some of the other people found a fabric that looked like it was made out of lots of squares. When the pieces all got sown together it looked really cool!

The TipTops are very fun to sew. Though I am not very good at matching the squares up, but hopefully I get better! My favourite part of the TipTop is the halter neck as it makes it feels very elegant.

When we finished the mock-up I really liked it, and I felt happy, though slightly tired.

My favourite fabric so far is probably the denim. It’s a very retro look when you combine the different denims together - it’s also very nice to sew. It would be very cool if we could try pattern matching.

The trip to the woollen museum was fun. Though the machines looked terrifying! One of the people that worked there even showed us how one of the looms worked. It looked very time consuming and the bobbins ran out really quickly. In Victorian times they would have children crawl under the machines to get rid of the loose wool. I would definitely not like to work there!

I really enjoyed this course and it was mega fun! I would love to do it again!

Take a look at the video which share some of the project highlights:

Mourning Wear and why it’s due a revival

Lowri Kirkham , 29 March 2022

About the Author - Lowri is one of the Freelance Young people Programme makers, working with Amgueddfa Cymru on the Winter of Wellbeing project. 

collage of mourning dresses and jewellery

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Situation 

I’m standing at the Supermarket checkout bagging up copious amounts of nibbles, cakes and booze. The checkout lady says ‘ Ooh are you having a party! You lucky thing!’ 

Here’s what I should have said: 

 ‘Actually my Dad just died and all of this is for my family and me (mainly me) to drown our sorrows after the funeral. I don’t need to be doing this but I need something to keep me busy or else I would have to deal with my feelings.’ And then I would make a scene by ugly crying while swigging from one of the wine bottles.  

And what I actually said: 

‘Yes, I’m having a party.’ And then I went back to my car and cried. 

This exchange would never have happened if Mourning dress was still a social convention. Of course, I could wear all black but that wouldn't necessarily convey that I had recently suffered a loss, it would just convey that I am chic… or a vampire… or a chic vampire. There aren’t too many old school social conventions that I would want to revive; however, certain parts of formal mourning are, in my opinion, due a revamp.  

So, what is traditional Mourning? 

After the death of a close family member or friend it has been a tradition for centuries in many parts of the western world to wear black for varying periods of time, to communicate that they have suffered a loss. However, during the Victorian period, Mourning and all the social conventions that went with it, were at their peak. This was for several reasons but the high death rate, rise of the middle classes and the wider availability of reliable Black clothing dyes contributed heavily to its popularity. Queen Victoria herself, was the poster girl for Mourning, famously remaining in mourning and seclusion for many years after her husband, Prince Albert's death. 

Mourning conventions varied and were dependent on class, location, religion and relationship to the deceased. For example, an upper class widow could stay in Mourning clothing for several years whereas a working class widow who had not the means for Mourning wear may show no outward grieving at all. The Mourning period also limited which social occasions the Mourner could attend. Dancing and other frivolities were a no go. Those who disregarded the expected conventions could become social outcasts. 

What is Mourning wear? 

Portrait of a woman in mourning clothes
Picture of a black mourning dress
Photograph of a child’s mourning outfit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mourning dresses were usually Matt black with very little decoration and covered as much skin as possible. Full head veils were also common. At least accessorizing was one less thing the Victorian widow had to worry about. Half mourning, which was the transition period between full mourning and normal dress, allowed for Silks, more trimmings and brighter colours such as grey and purple. Men, as well as wearing dark colours, might also wear an armband of black fabric

Accessorizing grief 

Black necklace
‘Hair is a symbol of life because it does not decompose after death. Mourners often wore jewelry made from their loved ones' hair as a continual reminder of their lives together.’
Brooch containing locks of hair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are some examples of mourning jewelry, some containing the hair of the dead loved one. At first, that might sound a bit strange but in a time when photographs and portraits were not easy to come by, being able to remember the colour of your loved ones' hair might give some comfort. And it’s no stranger than turning someone's ashes into a diamond or a painting which we can do today.

The Benefits of Mourning dress. 

Although full length dresses, veils and hairy bracelets may be a bit excessive nowadays (For some anyway, I think I could rock a full length Veil), wearing something to outwardly communicate grief may have real benefits.  

  1. It can limit awkward conversations, saving both parties from an uncomfortable situation. For example; when someone asks me how my dad is and I have to answer that he is dead; I want the ground to swallow me up and I would imagine the other person does too. 

  1. It can communicate the reason for unusual behavior without having to have the conversation, saving the mourner some embarrassment. I have cried in a swimming pool, a library and a bed shop. Not my proudest moments but I did get free pillows from the bed shop because the sales assistant felt sorry for me. 

  1. A way to communicate to groups that you have suffered a loss and to give you space. Mourners still have to go back to work, drop their kids at school and go to their kids after school activities where, small talk can feel like torture even on a good day.  

  1. If we see a stranger in Mourning, we can give them a thought, send them some good vibes and take some time to appreciate the people in our lives we hold dearest. 

These last couple of years have seen too much loss and more people than ever living in Grief. Unfortunately, I doubt Mourning clothes will catch on again; however, we can all try to be more mindful of the person sitting next to us on the bus, queuing in the supermarket or serving us in a pub. Who knows what they are going through. Kindness costs nothing but it is worth its weight in gold mourning rings.   

Ring with a flower motif

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more Mourning objects check out the Amgueddfa Cymru Collections online

A Queer Welsh Ballad

Mair Jones & Norena Shopland, 24 March 2022

In October 2021 following a talk on cross-dressing in history by Norena Shopland, a Welsh language ballad, Can Newydd, came to light in the Welsh Music Archive (WMA), National Library Wales. More can be read on that story in A Queer Bawdy Ballad. What is striking is the explicitly sexual nature of the ballad, depicting cross-dressing women having sexual relations with women.

Archifdy Ceredigion Archives (ACA) and Archives and Special Collections, Bangor University (BU) have exact copies in their collections but in February 2022 a third copy was located at Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales (ACNMW) however this version is simply entitled Can and has a few differences. Mair Jones who did the first translation of Can Newydd, also did the translation for Can.

The lyrics of both versions were written by a rather eccentric part-time criminal, one-eyed balladeer Abel Jones, ‘the last of the “great” balladists’ but who was often known by his bardic name Bardd Crwst after his birthplace, Llanrwst. Jones was a balladeer who travelled and performed at fairs across Wales, selling his ballads as ‘new songs’ (can newydd) on specific topics, such as the death of the Emperor of Russia, industrial accidents and disaster, tithe war and murders - though not always historically accurate, because his main aim was to sell his ballads. Sometimes he sold them with his son, and usually it was to people like the agricultural working-class community. He was the most well-known and popular balladeer of his time, though he died in Llanrwst Workhouse.

Dating the ballad is difficult although dates of between 1865-1872 have been suggested (see A Queer Bawdy Ballad for more details) and there is nothing in Can to suggest whether it comes before or after Can Newydd. However, all three versions of Can Newydd are signed Bardd Crwst while the ACNMW version is signed Abel Jones, (Bardd Crwst) and there may be a reason for this.

Jones wrote a number of humorous ballads, often using the tune Robin yn Swil (Robin is Shy), the same as for Can Newydd, a tune ‘more suitable for the tavern than for singing at respectable concerts and eisteddfodau.’ One of his ballads is listed as a poem about ‘courtship’, another was about Dic Sion Dafydd, and another about a drunken woman, while his other ‘courtship’ poems were advice not to marry or a man’s complaints about his wife.

One mention of Can Newydd in a newspaper of 1915, when discussing Bardd Crwst’s works, as ‘Song about two Young Women who went to knock at Ffermdy (Farmhouse) Tu Ucha’r Glyn, near Harlech’, has an added note by the compiler, ‘I didn’t give the title of the last one in full’ which seems to show that this would have been too disrespectful even for the newspaper, including leaving out the cross-dressing aspect.

The risqué nature, not only of the lyrics, but of the tune it was associated with may have caused Jones to remove his full name from the Can Newydd version. No tune is associated with the ACNMW version so there may be the possibility that Can came first and Jones made it saucier in the second version but decided to omit his full name. Can also uses some English words, such as ‘beauty,’ ‘Kate Pugh,’ ‘Visles’ and ‘Cirnoleens [sp],’ while Can Newydd uses Welsh spellings such as ‘biwty,’ ‘Cit Pugh’ and ‘busle,’ and has removed the spelling error of ‘crinoline’.

Another difference is the location where the event takes place. The introduction to Can is "A song about two young women who dressed themselves in men’s clothes and went to knock at Ffarmdy (Farmhouse) at two other young girls, and entered their House, to bed like two men and two dear lovers" whereas in Can Newydd it is "The tale of two young women from this region who dressed themselves in men’s clothes, and went courting to a country house to seduce two young women, who were strangers to them".

The farmhouse has disappeared and is replaced by ‘Plas uchaf and Glyn’. Plas Uchaf (Upper Hall) is 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from Corwen, Denbighshire, and Plas Glyn, possibly short for Plas Glynllifon 56 miles (90km) from Corwen. It seems Jones has moved the location from an obscure working-class farmhouse to named gentrified houses, although no cross-dressing reference has been found in connection with these two properties. It is however, a trope used even today, to place sensational stories among the wealthy who are fewer in number and have more time on their hands, than working-class people and Jones may not have wanted to offend his main audience.

Whatever the purpose of the ballad, it was decided to revive it for a presentation at an LGBTQ+ History Month 2022 by Aberration recorded by Cerys Hafana with backing vocals by the community.

By sharing this queer-related ballad today as a part of our Welsh history, it is reclaimed by the LGBTQ+ community, creatively reimagined and helps to build our Welsh queer community today.