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Our Big Nature Day on 27 May is a special kind of celebration and a brilliant day out for anyone who's interested in the natural world, whatever their age. It is the largest free event of its kind in the UK, and this year we've invited more than 50 nature groups from across the country to join us.

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Get bug-faced and hatted for the Insect Parades led by the insect band performing on stilts at our nature festival. Select images to enlarge them

One of the big excitements on Sunday is sure to be the Insect Parade led by the colourful insect band from the Museum's Darwin Centre atrium. In the morning and at lunchtime, children can drop into workshops with the street theatre company Emergeny Exit Arts to make bug-themed hats and then follow the parades - scheduled for 13.00 and 15.30 - through the Museum wearing their creations. Face painters are at hand to help kids look their buggy best.

 

Like last year, there will be marquees on the Courtyard and this is where you'll find most of the visiting nature group displays. 'It's really exciting to welcome so many voluntary nature groups across the country to the Museum - what a fantastic chance for our visitors to meet so many wildlife experts in one place,' says Lucy Carter from the OPAL citizen science project. Popular stands are bound to be The London Wildlife Trust's stag beetles and the Bat Conservation Trust's where they will be investigating bat poo!

 

Worm charming sessions take place under the Courtyard trees and several nature talks will be held in the Museum's Attenborough Studio. A Busy Bee Puppet Show workshop will entertain the little ones in the morning.

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Out in the Wildlife Garden you can get into pond-dipping, bug hunting, ladybird counting, leaf and nettle trailing, and more. We're interested in recording the species found in our garden, so scientists and volunteers will be around to help with finds and identification advice. We'll also be welcoming a group of cub scouts to the garden who are trying out their brand new Cub Scout Naturalist Activity Badge resource (the badge is pictured below).

 

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Over on the West Lawn, look out for the Bee aware display in the marquee and the National Trust's 'shepherd's hut'.

 

And remember, this is the national Be Nice to Nettles Week, so mind where you tread.

 

Big Nature Day celebrates the UN International Day of Biological Diversity and OPAL's nature activities and citizen science projects.

 

More details about Big Nature Day.

 

Find out which nature groups will be at Big Nature Day

 

 

 

Enjoy the video clip below of last year's Big Nature Day

 

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This week we heard the exciting news that last year's summer exhibition, Sexual Nature, has won the Museum + Heritage 2012 Award for best Temporary or Touring Exhibition. The team who conceived, produced and curated the exhibition were at the Awards Ceremony to celebrate. Among them was Mike Sarna, the Museum's Head of Exhibition Interpretation:

 

'Like everything the Natural History Museum does, the Sexual Nature exhibition helped to enthuse more people about the natural world. We are thrilled that the exhibition has been recognised for its excellence and we hope to build on that in the future with more eye-opening, thought-provoking exhibitions.

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Museum staff celebrate Sexual Nature's award for best Temporary Exhibition at the prestigious Museums + Heritage 2012 Awards ceremony at Earls Court on Wednesday 16 May.

'Over 100 specimens from the Museum’s scientific research collections provided the main basis for the displays. Cases were filled with colourful birds for attracting, antlers for battling and my favourite "love darts” that certain snails shoot at each other as a sort of foreplay. Film was also key to bringing these specimens to life and demonstrating their sexual behaviours. Watching the many birds of paradise dance and manipulate their feathers for females was so fascinating to watch.

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'We also included Isabella Rossellini’s humorous short Green Porno films. Of course museums are known for interactivity and I was delighted to see how many visitors smelt Jaguar spray, though those visitors might not be delighted with me.

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'But the exhibition was also about us - very special sexual animals. The exhibition concluded with a reflective interactive section about human sexual diversity. These displays were in effect curated by you through our Facebook page where we asked people provocative questions about what true love and sex meant to them.

 

'Sexual Nature’s prime objective was to attract new audiences to the Museum. With the exhibition we asked visitors to leave their pre-conceptions at the door and aimed to shift perceptions by delivering engaging science on a core Natural History Museum subject, evolution. We tackled evolution through one of its most important drivers, sexual selection, in a way that was fun, humorous and informative. The Museum is all about transformation and the exhibition was a wonderful catalyst for wider discussion, including our public programmes. The topic was one of our most retweeted topics, so we know you loved talking about it too.

 

'The Museums + Heritage Awards for Excellence celebrate best practice within museums, galleries and heritage visitor attractions and attract hundreds of entries from across the sector. Categories range from best permanent exhibition to innovation. The judges cited our amazing interpretation, our reaching out to new audiences and the bravery of the Museum to tackle a challenging topic. We are thrilled at its success and look forward to it's tour around the globe. If you missed the exhibition you might want to go to Paris in October for the opening of its international tour.'

 

The Temporary or Touring Exhibition Award category was hotly contended and we were up against strong competition including Derby Museums & Art Gallery's Down the Back of the Sofa, the Museum of London's Dickens and London and the National Army Museum's War Horse.

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Read the news story about Sexual Nature opening in February 2011

 

Museums + Heritage Awards for Excellence 2012

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What intriguing finds will the team of Natural History Museum scientists be asked to identify at this year's Lyme Regis Fossil Festival over May bank holiday weekend, 4 - 6 May? I asked the team of palaeontologists who are today getting ready to go (we have a regular presence at this popular annual event).

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Lyme Regis Fossil Festival 2012 highlights: the parade and lots of Natural History Museum displays and activities.

'It's mainly the Dorset ammonites that I am expecting to see,' our vertebrates curator Lorna Steel told me. 'But people do bring in all sorts of things from all sorts of places. The last time I went, someone handed me a badger skull... and someone else had a load of ichthyosaur bones that their granddad had found in a pile of rubble while working as a builder - they'd kept them in their loft for decades!'

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Over the next few days our scientists will be setting up their stalls in the festival's Grand Marquee fossil fair (below left) ready to meet the public and talk to them about fossil collecting.

 

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As well as hoping to discover Lower Jurassic ammonites or ichthyosaur fossil specimens, the Museum palaeontologists will be inviting festival-goers to assemble and take apart a Baryonyx skull replica and sift sand from Kent for shark teeth. There are other Museum offerings too, including gold panning, a dino dig activity led by some of our Learning Department, and talks about meteorites, whale carcass communities and corals.

 

A presentation of The What on Earth? Wallbook of Natural History timeline will be a fun attraction this year, with specimen highlights from our scientists. This Museum book is a unique guide to the history of life on Earth.

 

The Fossil Festival is just as much about music and arts as it is about fossil collecting and rockpool rambling on the beaches, where Mary Anning once walked. Have a look at the official fossil festival website programme to choose from activities as diverse as the Travelling Pliosaur Cinema, stonebalancing and carving, and a fossil time machine.

 

The theme for the 2012 Lyme Regis Fossil Festival is Discovering Earth. The event organisers are emphasising  how vital fossil collecting is today, particularly for climate change research:

 

'Paleoclimatologists studying both fossil finds and the coast itself learn new things about not only the ancient seas and the creatures that swam there, but also the way our oceans and marine life might respond in future as our climate changes. This evidence of how past life forms reacted to changing temperatures and conditions in the past helps to tell us what we might need to be prepared for.'

 

There are still important fossils and rocks being discovered on this historic Jurassic coastline - most recently a large pliosaur skull and a new species of crocodile.

 

If you can't make it to Dorset over the bank holiday weekend and are visiting the Museum, drop in to our talks with live-video-links to the Museum team at the festival. Fossil hunters: Live from Lyme Regis is on Saturday (12.30 and 14.30) and Seashore Search: live from Lyme Regis beach is on Sunday (12.30 and 14.30). Some of our scientists at the festival will also be posting live in our new Palaeontology news blog.

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The Museum has several huge ichthyosaurs on show in its Fossil Marine Reptiles gallery. One is the largest and most complete of its kind and was discovered by the 19th-century fossil-hunter Mary Anning in Lyme Regis.

Undoubtedly, we have amazing fossils in our galleries from the tiniest to the gigantic. I'd recommend Fossil Marine Reptiles, Fossils from Britain and the Red Zone's Earth Lab where you can use resources to help identify your own British rocks and fossils.

 

Lyme Regis Fossil Festival website

 

Paleontology department news

 

More fossil information

 

Find out more about fantastic fossils and ammonites on our Kids only website

Get some tips on fossil hunting

Discover all about fossils online

Watch the Baryonyx video and follow the story of this unusual British dinosaur

Explore dinosaurs and other extinct aquatic animals like ichtyhosaurs