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Do you know what bugs are living near you? Are some spiders more common in cities or in the countryside?

 

Help us find out by joining in the new nationwide Bugs Count survey launched today, 8 June, by the Museum and OPAL partnership. The scientists asking for our help want to know what bugs are out there and the differences between what we find in the cities or rural areas.

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Hunt for bugs in soil, short or long grass. Search on paving and outsides of buildings and on plants and shrubs.small-tortoiseshell-butterfly-crop.jpg

On your bugs hunt, keep a special eye out for six specific minibeasts, including the small tortoiseshell butterfly (right), which is in decline. Use the Species Quest bugs sheet to help in your identification.

 

Find out how to join in the OPAL Bugs Count and what resources you'll need

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You'll be surprised at what buggy creatures you can find in towns and the countryside.

 

On the recent Big Nature Count of our Wildlife Garden, we found over 60 species of bugs in a morning and the final count hasn't been done yet. As well as the unusual drab wood soldier fly, Solva marginata, discovered, there was a new Coleophora glaucicolella moth found, not recorded in the garden before. And just the other day, a Museum volunteer out on a field trip in Surrey's Bookham Common, found a population of scarlet malachite beetles, left, one of the UK's rarest insects.

 

Read the news story about the bug count and which six specific minibeasts you should look out for

 

Come along to the Museum's Attenborough Studio this Saturday, 11 June, to hear two Big City Big Hunt talks at 12.30 and 14.30 with our scientists. Afterwards, you can take part in various bug-hunting activities and pick up a Bugs Count pack in the Wildlife Garden.

What's a bug?

The term ‘bug’ is a widely used name for insects. In our Bugs Count we are including non-insect groups such as spiders, centipedes, millipedes and woodlice. These are all collectively part of the group called arthropods and are invertebrates.

 

True bugs are a specific group of insects that include shield bugs, water bugs, aphids, scale insects and others.

 

More bug information

 

Find out about bug identification in our Nature Online section

 

Join the Bug forum

 

Browse our Young naturalists page and enjoy the Big Nature Day video

 

Discover how to identify the Cockshafer May bug and watch the video


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Last week, on 1 April to be precise, our lovely Wildlife Garden unlocked its gates once more for the public open season. The acre of meadows, chalklands and ponds flanked by trees and garden 'office' sheds are bursting forth with spring life.

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Bird cherry blossom has just started to appear in the Wildlife Garden

I popped in earlier in the week to get a breath of fresh air and chat to Caroline, the garden's manager, who took me round to point out the signs of new life.

 

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There are pretty primroses, cowslips and wood anenomes peeping out here and there and the first few bluebells. The blackthorn, Wild cherry and Bird cherry trees are all beginning to blossom.

 

'Frogs arrived in the pond around the middle of March,' recalls Caroline, continuing 'and we saw the first frog spawn around the 22nd. The toad spawn came a few days later. Toads usually follow frogs.' We lean over the large freshwater pond to observe the mush of spawn clinging to the watery bank and spot a solitary moorhen on one of the islands.

 

It's a busy time for nesting birds, but this spring the moorhen has made her nest outside in the open in front of the nesting box provided. Caroline fears for the vulnerability of the nesting family, but won't interfere.

 

I learn that the first holly blue butterfly was seen in the last couple of weeks and the trees resound with the chatter of green finches and magpies.

 

Caroline and her team have been busy getting ready for the public opening of the garden and planning this year's seasonal garden activities and monthly family weekend events. The first weekend event, Spring Wildlife, is on 8 May, so check the website for more information and updates nearer the time.

 

The Wildlife Garden is not only a place for our visitors to enjoy in the spring, summer and autumn. It's also an urban habitat where we record, identify and conserve species. During the winter months, the Wildlife Garden team have been busy coppicing, pollarding, hedge-laying, weeding and planting to extend woodland areas.You'll see signs of their labours when you visit.

 

Find out about the Wildlife Garden on our website


Take part in our bluebell survey this year

 

Join our cherry tree survey

 

Read our latest news story about bluebells

Enjoy some recent early spring photos of the Wildlife Garden. See some of the species you might spot if you visit soon. Select images to enlarge them

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Nesting moorhen... tread quietly round the pond

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Common toad tadpoles will emerge in the ponds soon

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Marsh marigolds by the pond

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Blackthorn blossom

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Cowslips

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The first of the bluebells, these ones look like native bluebells to me...

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Willow
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Greater stitchwort

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Primroses

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The last daffodil blooms

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We've been harvesting some delicious honey from our Wildlife Garden bees. I was visiting the garden when Luke Dixon, the Museum’s beekeeper and Caroline, our Wildlife Garden manager, were shaking and brushing out our bee hive trays. We've added a video clip of the honey collecting on YouTube.

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Beekeeper Luke Dixon shaking out bee hive trays in the Wildlife Garden

 

Watch the Wildlife Garden honey collecting video clip on YouTube.

Discover the delights of the Museum's Wildlife Garden.

 

The beginning of September is the honey collecting season, explains Luke in the video, as he enthuses about the deliciousness of urban honey and especially London honey. I can support him wholeheartedly on this as I was one of the lucky staff members and volunteers who managed to get our hands on a jar before they all disappeared. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough to sell to the public. Our bees have created a distinctive taste that is really flavoursome and floral. It truly reflects the amazing variety of flora in the garden.

 

By the way, the smoke you’ll see in the video is there to calm the bees so they don’t get too anxious and angry about losing the fruits of their hard work all summer.

 

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On Saturday 25 September, the Wildlife Garden team was joined by staff and volunteers from the RSPB and OPAL for its last public event. You can see one of the day’s highlights pictured here. The hedge laid by hedgerow expert Rob Graham at Hedgerow Harvest was much admired by all.

 

Caroline was delighted it was such a success and a wonderful event to end this year's Wildlife Garden events season.

 

'As well as highlighting the importance of hedges for wildlife both in the countryside and in our gardens and parks,' said Caroline, 'it was about talking to our visitors about the many different hedgerow plants and associated insects, birds and other animals - some of which they could see in the garden - and introducing hedgerow plants used in folk medicine and edible plants. There were also some tasty samples of jams and wines made from wild fruit such as sloes, bramble and elderberries.'

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Remember the Dartmoor Tor family who grazed in the Wildlife Garden last year? They're back and they're larger, woollier and hungrier than ever before. Since their return last week, Bella and Bee with Little Mis have lost no time in eating the leaves of their favourite trees. Which is great news, says Caroline the garden's manager, as there's now a lot more light on the horizon at the edge of the meadow.

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Bella, her half-sister Little Mis and Bee, Bella's little one who's now 16 months old, in the Wildlife Garden meadow

 

Our 3 Greyface Dartmoors spent last year at the London Wetland Centre, with extended family members Kitty and Honey (part of the Wildlife Garden Tor sheep fraternity), grazing the meadows and the islands of the beautiful wetland reserve. The sheep were all shorn in May, but are looking large and woolly again.

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The Wildlife Garden's meadow and chalk downland will be grazed by our sheep over the coming weeks and their trampling actions help seeds to germinate.

 

When I visited the garden to greet the sheep, I also spotted a tiny frog jumping in the meadow with them, several wood mice scampering by the secluded logpile, some beautiful dragonflies on the fence and a family of humans investigating the Bee Tree. Have a look at the garden's Recent sightings sign below to see what's around.

 

Find out about the Wildlife Garden

 

Read last year's sheep blog

 

Discover the London Wetland Centre

 

Images: Bella's shaggy smile. Garden's Recent Sightings sign, below.  Click on the images to enlarge them. Thanks to Matt for them.

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Bee movie in What's new at the Museum

Posted by Rose Aug 12, 2010
Get a glimpse of our thriving bee colony inside the Wildlife Garden's bee tree in our latest video on the Natural History Museum's YouTube space.honeycomb-up-close2.jpg
In the bee tree video, join Museum beekeeper Luke Dixon as he strolls through the Wildlife Garden and looks inside the bee tree's observation hive to marvel at the colony and its wild honeycomb.

Watch the Wildlife Garden's bee tree video on YouTube

 

Luke reminds us how much we need bees and how important it is to encourage them, especially since the drastic decline in our worldwide bee population.bee-tree-tall.jpg

 

We've been keeping bees here in the Wildlife Garden for about 6 or 7 years and in the height of the summer months our bee colony can be 50,000 strong. Once a bee emerges from its cell it can live between 3 to 6 months depending on the time of year and food available.

 

This summer the bees living in the bee tree, pictured here earlier in June, have had a very successful season and have since extended the honeycomb to the very bottom of the hive.

 

You can also catch up on the bee tree colony's daily progress with our online beecam.

 

As the days get longer they're beginning to settle down for the winter. The male bees, the drones, are being kicked out of the hive and the number of workers is reducing dramatically as the queen stops laying eggs for new offspring.


The honey that the bees have made is their winter stores, to feed on in the long, cold months when there is nothing to forage on outside of the hive. I wonder if there'll be any spare for us?

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Read the earlier bee tree blog.

 

Find out more about the Museum's honeybee species, Apis mellifera.

 

 

Click on the images to enlarge them.

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I'm completely in awe of trees. Especially the trees that flourish, magically, amidst the concrete and bricks, and the metal, rubber and glass of London's busy streets, where I live and work.

 

So I'm very happy to be telling you about our new online Urban tree survey. This nationwide survey, that launched on Friday 16 July, will be one of the biggest tree surveys ever.

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A Judas tree in Cambridge © Andrew Dunn. This was our Species of the day to mark the launch of the Urban tree survey.

Although we know a lot about Britain's rural tree population, relatively little is known about the trees in urban areas. We're being invited to record particularly what's in our private gardens and local streets and parks of urban Britain, so our scientists and botanists can build a picture of what trees are growing where, and also find out how the urban tree population is changing.

 

Our survey focuses on 80 different types of tree normally associated with an urban environment.

 

I'm told that one of our most widespread trees is the sycamore, and in urban areas, the closely related norway maple may be as common or more so. These species were introduced to the UK. But we don't have actual numbers for the most common trees, only data on which are most widespread.

 

There are lots of resources on the Urban tree survey website to help with tree identification and advice on how to take part in the survey.

 

I recommend watching the Identify trees video first, which shows you what things to look out for to identify your trees correctly. Especially enjoyable because it's filmed in Holland Park, one of London's best parks in my opinion.

 

trees-leaves.jpgTo record your findings on the survey, choose an area you want to survey first, and think about the things you'll need to consider before you start recording your trees. For example, are the tree leaves hairy? Are they needle-like or scale-like, broad or lobed? What about fruits or cones? Petals, twigs, bark and importantly what does it smell like? The Tree identification key which you can download and take with you, will help with all this. You can check your identification using our online interactive identification key.

 

Read the news story about the Urban tree survey for some fascinating facts about the survey and our knowledge of trees.

 

Explore the lovely Judas tree Species of the day that marked the launch of the survey and is the main photo above. It's also featured in the survey. Now where did it get its name, I wonder?

Are these leaves from an elder or ash? Check your tree knowledge on the survey's ID key chart

The Urban tree survey will run for 3 years and our Cherry tree survey launched this spring is part of it.

 

Leaves image © Università di Trieste, Dipartimento di Biologia. Photo: Andrea Moro

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Our Wildlife Garden is taking part once again in London's Open Garden Squares Weekend on Saturday and Sunday, 12 and 13 June.

 

Special treats lined up for visitors include the chance to meet a bat expert and to get more acquainted with our family of moorhens (left) and the rest of our busy pond community in the garden.


The Wildlife Garden's freshwater ponds are home to many species of plants and animals. If you're lucky at the weekend, you might spot the little moorhen chicks and azure damselflies competing for attention with the likes of diving beetles and common newts.

 

Our bat expert, Sean Hanna, will be in the garden both days, revealing lots of fascinating bat facts. Incidentally, did you know that brown long-eared bats, like the cutie in the picture below (click to enlarge), have such good hearing they can hear a ladybird walking on a leaf...long-eared-bat-600.jpg

 

Garden photographer Sue Snell will be signing copies of her new book, The Garden at Charleston, on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning at the event. Sue has been photographing this artistic and quintessentially English garden at Charleston, beloved by the Bloomsbury Group, for the last decade,

 

Other highlights of our weekend event will include leaf rubbing and seed identification activities and stalls selling refreshments and wild flowers plants. The event is free.

 

Find out more about the Open Garden Squares Weekend event in the Wildlife Garden and visit the official Museum page on the Open Garden Squares Weekend website

 

Make the most of this weekend to also visit other rarely-open or little-known London gardens. This year there are 200 London gardens taking part in Open Garden Squares Weekend. You can find out who's taking part at the Open Garden Squares website

 

More to follow up online

 

Some bat secrets are revealed on our website.


If you're interested in more pond facts, have a look at our Freshwater ponds webpage


Browse our visitors' Wildlife Garden webpage

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We have a family of foxes living in the Wildlife Garden. They've set up a breeding den, called an earth, tucked away under the garden shed in the private part of the Wildlife Garden.

And now, we've got our first foxcam set up to follow our foxy lodgers scampering around. There are about 3 to 4 little cubs that have been spotted so far. They come out to feed on earthworms, beetles and other tasty snacks.

As I write this blog in the afternoon, one cheeky cub comes out to pose as if to say 'hello, watch me, I'm on camera'. What a show-off!

You can use the foxcam day by day and get a glimpse of the fox cubs growing up. The Wildlife Garden staff tell me that they are most active early in the morning and early evening about 6ish. So we recommend catching up with the foxcam at these times to get a good glimpse, but then I just saw my cub in the middle of the afternoon. Also on camera, you may spot pigeons, squirrels and the legs of humans too.

Our Wildlife Garden fox cubs were probably born in late March. Over the summer months they will play, explore and gradually begin to fend for themselves by joining their parents on night-time hunts. By September the cubs should be fully grown.

For a sneak peak of a fox cub appearance on our foxcam, have a look at our YouTube foxcam clip from 26 April.



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It's sheep time in What's new at the Museum

Posted by Rose Aug 28, 2009
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Our Greyface Dartmoor sheep have arrived

It's incredible to think that from this week we will have sheep grazing outside the Museum in our Wildlife Garden. Just 5 minutes walk from one of the busiest streets in London. But this has been happening since 1999. The sheep (usually 3 to 5 of them) arrive every year around this time in late summer. They graze and trample the fallen plant seeds into the soil, after the garden’s meadow and chalk lowland plants have flowered and seeded. They play an important role in the ecology of our garden.

 

And did you know that our sheep are named after Dartmoor tors? There’s Kitty, Little Mis, Honey, Bella and Huccaby. This year it’s Honey, Bella and her lamb who are visiting and I hope to meet them soon. We used to borrow our sheep from Freightliners Farm, but then an anonymous donor helped us buy our own.

 

Our sheep spend most of the year at the London Wetland Centre – our partner in this sheep grazing project. Lambs previously born to our sheep have been re-homed on farms in Somerset, Hounslow and Kent.