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What's new at the Museum

203 Posts authored by: Rose

After a week of busy media and VIP events, our Animal Inside Out exhibition bared all to the public for its Easter opening yesterday on Good Friday.


The exhibition, which is adapted from Gunther von Hagens' famous Body Worlds plastinated shows, is set to flex its momentous muscles and open hearts throughout the coming summer months. As well as being an illuminating anatomical journey, it really is something to behold. At times the exhibits appear more like artworks than plastinated animals with exposed inner organs. The gallery has been beautifully designed and lit. There's no doubt it will be big success.


Actress Miranda Richardson contemplates the enormous 4-tonne, plastinated elephant at our recent Animal Inside Out celebrity event.

Among the VIPs who attended the exhibition's recent celebrity launch were Miranda Richardson, Bill Wyman, Celia Sawyer, Will Self, and John Humphrys. Enjoy some of the photos from the night and some of the other stars of the show.


Musician Bill Wyman looks into the eyes of the goat


Four Rooms dealer Celia Sawyer gets interior design tips from the plastinated cuttlefish

For the launch events, Dr Angelina Whalley from the Insitute for Plastination and co-founder of Body Worlds was at hand to answer questions. I asked her if there was an animal they hadn't yet plastinated but would like to. She told me: 'It's Gunther's dream to plastinate a blue whale. But the elephant was such an enormous challenge, and so costly, I am not wishing for that to come true too quickly'.will-self-horse-head-1000.jpg

Writer Will Self looks a stripped horse head in the mouth.. the horse's head is cut into three sections to show it's inner workings.

The exhibition focuses on six different internal anatomical systems: the muscular, blood, skeletal, digestive, nervous, and reproductive. From tiny chicks to towering giraffes, it features nearly 100 plastinated animals.


If you are considering visiting with children, have a look at the exhibition website and highlghts slideshow to see what's inside.


Buy tickets for Animal Inside Out


Find out more about the exhibition and plastination


Read the news story about the exhibition and the plastination of the elephant

More celebrity photos at Animal Inside Out's launch event. Select images to enlarge them


Actress Olivia Grant
Presenter John Humphrys


Fashion designer Pam Hogg


Journalist Kate Adie


Actor Rafe Spall


Presenter Evan Davis
Presenter Dallas Campbell

The Central Hall's famous Diplodocus skeleton has a new furry friend this week. A bactrian camel with two humps and three heads - well actually it's one head in three sections - which stands proudly displaying its inner anatomy in front of the grand staircase and Charles Darwin's statue.


The plastinated camel in the Museum's Central Hall gives us a peek into Animal Inside Out, opening for Easter.

This unmissable plastinated specimen is one of the spectacular creatures from our next big exhibition, Animal Inside Out, which opens its doors to the public on Good Friday, 6 April. The camel points the way to the Waterhouse Gallery where the exhibition is currently being installed. We've adapted Gunther von Hagens' Animal BodyWorlds and this is the first time the show will be seen in the UK.


I asked Paul Gallagher who is managing the installation of Animal Inside Out how things were behind the scenes:


'The exhibition arrived on Saturday 24 March, in six large truck loads from Germany. For this particular unload we had to build an extra sturdy scaffold platform at the front of the Museum capable of withstanding loads up to three tonnes. We also had to use thicker protective wooden boards throughout the unload route into the Museum. And then we laid heavy strong steel plates to help bridge the changing floor levels between the Central Hall mosaic tiles and the fossil gallery wooden floor.


'Some of the larger exhibits such as the shark and the gorilla had to be unpacked outside and brought in piece-by-piece as they were too big to go through the doors.


'The bull arrived wrapped in very tight black plastic which looked really surreal in the fading night light as we fork-lifted it onto the platform. Luckily for us, the huge elephant came in several smaller sections in flight cases on wheels which all fitted through all our doorways easily!


'Walking around the exhibition space, it's clear that the larger creatures will undoubtedly be the stars of the show for their sheer scale and dominance in the gallery. The huge charging bull seemingly frozen in time as a centrepiece really demonstrates the real power and presence of this animal. I wouldn't wave a red flag here. But there are plenty of smaller specimens in the glass showcases that will excite visitors.


'Another really exciting aspect of this show is the newly-designed graphic panels that we’ve produced here in-house by our own resident designer. He has created a stunning series of really dynamic yet elegant sketches using all sorts of animals in various poses that really complement the exhibit descriptions. These really enhance the 3D objects on display. They are so good that I hear some will feature on our merchandise range in the exhibition's shop. So I know I’ll be getting a T shirt!


giraffe-installation.jpg'The camel plastinate which has just been unveiled in the Central Hall is an attractor for the exhibition. Luckily this is on wheels so even though it weighs over 1 tonne it can be moved quite easily for the many functions that take place there in the evenings unless of course our clients are happy to invite it to their event.


''Having shown a few people round the gallery already, the first thing most say is: ‘these aren’t real animals though are they?’ So it’s really great when you tell them that ‘oh yes, they are real. Their faces change dramatically as they can’t believe it. Then they usually say ‘WOW. How amazing it’s unbelievable’’. So I hope all our visitors will feel the same way too.'


Watch this space for more animal insides news next week.


Find out more about Animal Inside Out on our exhibition website.


Buy tickets for the exhibition

In memoriam. Captain Robert Falcon Scott, 6 June 1868 to 29 March 1912.


Portrait of Scott by expedition photographer Herbert Ponting, and Memorial cross image below, courtesy of Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge. Select images to enlarge them.


Today marks the centenary of Captain Robert Falcon Scott's last diary entry on 29 March 1912. It is thought to be the day Scott died.


Scott's last words from his famous diary read: 'We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker of course, and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity but I do not think that I can write any more.'


Inside our Scott exhibition, the final exhibits showing the iconic cairn cross adorned with Scott's last messages home, next to the belongings found in the tent where his frozen body and those of Henry Bowers and Edward Wilson were discovered, are among the most haunting in the gallery.


Scott is assumed to be the last to perish of the five-strong Polar party. It's likely he died on 29 March 1912 in the tent where he, Bowers and Wilson sheltered from the unrelenting blizzards, their food provisions gone. A depot containing enough supplies to get them back to base camp was just 11 miles away. The legendary cairn cross photo (above) was taken by the search party who found the tent and the frozen bodies 8 months later on 12 November 1912.  In tribute they made a great cairn of ice over the tent and bodies and fashioned a cross from skis. A sledge was thrust into a smaller cairn nearby.


Next to the huge cairn cross display in the exhibition, you'll see some of the belongings retrieved from the tent where Scott, Bowers and Wilson were found. A theodolite, Wilson's sledging diary, the green satchell in which Scott kept his diary, and Scott's own silk embroidered British flag inscribed with the words 'Ready, Aye, Ready' are among them. Near these exhibits, there's the chance to turn the pages and read extracts from Scott's virtual diary, and listen to them too.



Some months after the search party found Scott, an official Memorial cross was erected at Observation Hill on Ross Island, Antarctica, where it still stands today (left).


The Memorial cross bears the names of the five men who were lost, Capt R. F. Scott, Dr E. A. Wilson, Capt. L. E. C. Oates, Lt H. H. Bowers, and Petty Officer E. Evans, and words from Tennyson's Ulysses poem:


'To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield'.


Today, members of the Museum's staff attended the moving Scott commemorative ceremony at St Paul's Cathedral where 2,000 people gathered from all over the world.


Outside St Paul's earlier today, a Museum spokesman said: 'It's remarkable to see how Scott's legacy influences us still, 100 years on. It was simply extraordinary to be there.'

Earlier in the week, we welcomed special guests from the British Services Antarctic Expedition team to our Scott exhibition to see rocks and fossils collected by Scott's team which are kept in our collections.


As well as the personal stories and everyday objects that played a part in this epic Polar journey, you'll also discover some of the many scientific specimens including geological samples that were found with the last three perished. Come and visit. Scott's Last Expedition is also open late every last Friday of the month.


Find out more about Scott's Last Expedition exhbition online


Read the news story about the British Services Antarctic Expedition team visiting the Museum and recreating Scott's last birthday meal in the Terra Nova base camp hut


Keep in touch with Antarctic research now - follow the Antarctic Conservation blog


The Museum played a poignant part in a heart-warming story last week when we invited the Greene family in early on Friday morning for an exclusive, early-morning skate through the Central Hall and Dinosaur Way on their Heelys, fulfilling one of their late mum's wishes.


The Greenes' skate through the Museum was filmed and featured on ITV's This Morning show as a follow-up to Mother's Day and an earlier interview with them about their incredible family struggles and mum's moving memoir. You can watch it on the video clip below.




The Greene family's skating adventure here was one of the things on their 'mum's list'...


In 2010, at  the age of 38, Kate Greene discovered that she had terminal breast cancer. Before passing away, she made a list of  things that she had wanted to do and that her husband and their two young sons should do after she'd gone. The wish list of over 100 things has become immortalised in the bestselling book Mum's List, (right) written by her husband, Singe.


Two years on from her death, achieving some of the things on their mum's wish list has helped the family to remember and celebrate their beloved Kate. Along with their recent Heelys skate here, they've already snorkelled through the corals of Egypt's Dead Sea, visited Lapland and are still buying orange Club biscuits every time they go down the shops - Kate's favourite!

The Museum was delighted to welcome all the Greene family (dad Singe, sons Finn, left and Reef right pictured above) to skate in the Central Hall and Dinosaur Way last week for the ITV's This Morning film feature and to be part of the Mum's List story. Select images to enlarge them.

Dad Singe says of their visit:


'It was very emotional for us to tick off one of the items on Kate's List on Friday. The museum was so lovely and made us all feel really welcome. Finn preferred going up and down the corridors rather than around the dinosaur as the floor was smoother! To have that opportunity to not only tick something off the list, but in such style at the Natural History Museum in London was completely phenomenal. I can't thank the Natural History Museum and This Morning enough for making that happen. I've been smiling ever since.'


We wish the Greene family the very best of luck in achieving lots more on their mum's list in the future.


How green is your alley?

Posted by Rose Mar 12, 2012

Along the streets and alleyways of our future eco-cities there will be borders of wild flowers buzzing with bees and butterflies. Swifts and bats will fly freely again to and from the eaves of public buildings and tower blocks. Glimpses of solar panels, wind turbines and roof gardens, reflected in self-cleaning windows, will frame the high horizon. It will take under 7minutes to walk to your nearest public transport, recycling centre and local farmer's market. A tree-lined park, river or lake will be just as close.


Does it sound romantic and as far away as the Emerald City seemed to Dorothy when she first set foot in Oz? Such improvements to the sustainability, biodiversity and natural quality of urban life are already part of the greening plans for many cities around the world. And for good reason. It's the first time in history we face a situation where half of the world's population is located in urban spaces rather than rural areas. Planning the future of our cities will make or break a green economy.


Above: Green roofs are starting to pop up all over London. Enough of them could cut down flooding risks, help cool the city, and reduce health hazards in the anticipated hot summers that climate change may bring. And make more space for nature.


In places like Curitiba, capital of Brazil's Parana State, and Sweden, to name a couple, there have been big successes in cutting pollution, fuel consumption and waste through innovative city planning. There are also more ambitious schemes for completely new developments such as Masdar City near Abu Dhabi. Masdar is being hailed as the world's first zero carbon city and a showcase for sustainable living.


And what of Britain's most energy-efficient cities? Are they doing as well as they should? Here in London, there has been much talk of the Green Olympics with sustainability embedded firmly in Olympic planning from the outset. Pictured right is the area around east London's Olympic Park site which is being transformed in line with sustainability guidelines.


The costs and benefits of making our cities and urban housing greener and the promise of the greenest-ever Olympics will no doubt be among the hot topics on the agenda of this week's Earth Debate taking place here at the Museum. Olympics sustainability head, David Stubbs, joins the panel of key speakers to discuss Green cities in a green economy.


Green cities in a green economy - how to pioneer a sustainable transition? is on Wednesday 14 March from 19.00 to 20.00 GMT in the Attenborough  Studio. Like the last two it folllows a Question Time format with an invited studio audience and four panellists.



Watch the Green cities debate live on our website or join us on our online community to have your say before, during and after the event. On the night, you can contribute questions or comments using #earthdebates on Twitter.


This is our third Earth Debate, organised jointly with our Earth Debates partner, the Stakeholder Forum for a sustainable future, in the lead-up to the UN's Earth summit in June, Rio+20.


Find out more about the Earth Debates and watch the previous debates on video

Join in the UK's Climate Week activities


On Sunday 11 March at around 5:50 GMT, the Waterhouse Gallery doors at the Museum will close on the current Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. This year's showcase of winning photos - the 48th one since we set up the competition - has been a huge hit, as ever with this popular show. It was nominated three times during its run as Time Out's Critic's Choice.


Over the last few weeks, the exhibition shop has been busier than ever ringing up sales of the 2011 exhibition Portfolio book, calendars, retro cameras, fridge magnets and, of course, the beautiful prints to remind us of this year's winning photographs. It's no surprise that the print that most people wanted to own was of this little cutie, who lives high up in China's Qinling Mountains (where many of us may never travel to in our lifetimes). The Tiny warm-up photo was the runner-up in the 2011 Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Species.


Tiny warm-up by Cyril Ruoso captured the vulnerability of China's endangered golden snub-monkeys. The youngster was one of a band of about 70 monkeys living high up in China's Qinling Mountains, surviving on lichen, leaves, bark and buds. This particular subspecies probably numbers no more than about 4,000. The image was the favourite from this year's exhibition print range.

One of the vital things about this exhibition is that in the latest and best photographs of life, and sometimes death, on our planet, we get closer to creatures and corners of our natural world we wouldn't otherwise know about. And in the stories behind the photos and of the individuals who took them, we learn about important things affecting our environment. The overall 2011 Veolia Enivronnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year winner, Daniel Beltra, is testament to that with his unforgettable Still life in oil image of rescued pelicans from Louisiana's catastrophic oil slick.


Whizzing through the gallery one last time - I always wish I could linger more - I realise again how brilliant it is to see these pictures close up and how the back-lit installations bring out all the details, colours and contours so intensely. Working on the exhibition's website as I do, these are things that I sometimes miss.


I've got lots of favourites from this year. Here are a couple that will haunt me after my last exhibition visit.


Fading beauty by David Maitland (above) is incredibly deceptive. It looks like a painting, but the stylishly-shot mass of poppies was photographed on David's local car-park embankment in Wiltshire last summer. Sadly, three days after David captured them in full bloom (before most had seeded) someone weed-killered the lot! So there will be no poppies to brighten up his car park this year.


Wings of a gull by Jan van der Greef is startling close up with its ethereal iridescent quality. The herring gull's wonderful wing motion and the shimmering stream of water from its legs were taken by Jan on a boat trip in northern Norway. He went to photograph white-tailed eagles, but instead was mesmerised by the gulls. The 2011 exhibition will be remembered for its abundance of breathtaking bird imagery.

The 2011 exhibition has already started its UK and international tour so there are plenty of chances to catch it outside of London.


Behind the scenes, the judges of this year's 2012 competition are now shoulders-deep in the first round of the selection process for the shortlist of winners. They have the highest amount of entries ever to contend with - so good luck to them.


We'll keep you posted on the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year website of news on the judging and tour updates.


And we're now putting the finishing touches to Wild Planet, a free outdoor exhibition of classic shots from Wildlife Photographer of the Year, opening on the Museum's east lawn on 23 March. Check our website for details of this coming soon.


Martian marvels in The Vault

Posted by Rose Feb 28, 2012

It's incredible to think that the giant-fist-sized meteoritic rock that you see below, which was blasted off Mars' surface into the solar system, travelling an average distance of 49 million miles to reach Morocco on Earth last year, is now nestling in the Museum's Vault gallery. Just think of what it may tell us when it gets examined closely by our meteorite experts.



The Museum's new and most important Mars meteorite, the Tissint, is on display in The Vault gallery for another month. Select images to enlarge them.


You'll notice the Tissint Mars meteorite is exhibited in a curious-looking contraption. It's known as a desiccator and is essential to minimise contamination of the meteorite by keeping it dry and in a low-oxygen environment. The dessicant crystals underneath help to do this job.


At 1.1kg the Tissint is now the largest Martian meteorite in the Museum's collection. It is one of the biggest chunks from the shower of Martian stones that fell in the Moroccan village near Tissint, and is incredibly rare and important because it showed hardly any signs of contamination at all. Museum meteorite expert Dr Caroline Smith (below) described the Tissint as 'the most important meteorite to have fallen in 100 years.'



What will this recently-acquired piece of the Red Planet reveal about the mysteries of Mars? Museum meteorite expert Dr Caroline Smith (left) and her team will research the Tissint when it comes off display in The Vault. Right, Mars surface digitally pieced together from photos taken on the late 1970s Viking spacecraft missions. Mars globe image courtesy of NHM, John  Bridges, October 2003.


The Tissint meteorite is on show in The Vault for another month at least, so catch it while you can. It is exhibited next to the Nakhla, another of our extremely rare Mars meterorites (below), which fell in Egypt in 1911. Clay minerals found in this meteorite proved that water once existed on Mars.



When you get close to these Martian marvels and read about them in the gallery, you'll realise how valuable they are to planetary research and our understanding of the mysteries of the Red Planet. With its volcanoes and valleys, its watery history and its seasons, Mars will never cease to intrigue us because it resembles our planet more than any other.


The Tissint meteorite will be coming off display periodically so that Dr Smith and other Museum scientists, in conjunction with colleagues around the world, will be able to study it. Research will include analysing the minerals it contains and looking in detail at the chemistry of the rock to better understand the formation and history of the Red Planet. A lot of this work will be done in the Museum's own world-class laboratories.


There are other beautiful meteorites to discover, including ones from the Moon, in The Vault's collection of Mars rocks, dazzling gemstones and crystals. And head over to the Red Zone's Earth Today and Tomorrow gallery to gasp at the Cranbourne meteorite which is our most massive space rock in the Museum.


The Vault gallery is in the Green Zone, on the upper gallery of the Central Hall at the end of the Minerals gallery.

Browse The Vault gallery highlights slideshow


Read the news story about the mighty Tissint meteorite landing at the Museum


We have lots of information about Mars and meteorites on our website. Enjoy this selection:

Martian meteroites

More about meteorites from Mars and the moon

Exploration of Mars

The surface of Mars in 3D


Is Earth's future out of order?

Posted by Rose Feb 20, 2012

As I walked through the Museum’s Earth galleries last week it made me chuckle to see a small sign posted on the What is Earth’s future? exhibit. The sign read ‘Out of Order. This exhibit is being repaired…’ The group of young lads who noticed it too were also highly amused at the irony of it.


The Museum's What is Earth's future? exhibit, recently declared 'Out of order'. Symbolic of things to come for our planet? The exhibit, located in the From the Beginning gallery in the Museum's Red Zone, has since been restored to its spinning globe with haunting moving images projected on it. Select images to enlarge them


Of late, we’ve experienced some trying times behind the scenes in the Earth galleries office block, where I work. First our staff lift ground to a halt (leaving us with a lung-busting hike up the stairs), then the water packed up - just as well since the toilets had stopped working - and to top it all off  the heating threw in the towel for a day at the height of the recent cold spell. However, we soldiered on to make the Red Zone's galleries the greatest show of Earth on Earth. And, because we care and because the Natural History Museum is an inspiring place to work, we were happy to do so (like the rest of our 'fairly happy' fellow Britons as recently observed in the much-talked-about Happiness survey.)


It strikes me that what happened in the Museum's Earth galleries is in uncanny synchronicity with the central concerns of our current series of Earth Debates, which continue here over the next three months: if we don’t do some vital repairs to our resources and society, will parts of the Earth soon be declared out of order too? What is the real impact of what we produce and consume on our surroundings? Does our quest for the greatest show, greater monetary wealth and the constant demand for more material goods come before our immediate day-to-day living needs? Are we happier and do we feel more valued if we are more affluent or is it because of what we achieve and where and who we are with?

Would you be willing to go vegetarian, or even just to switch to eating poultry, pork or pasture-fed beef rather than grain-fed beef to reduce the impact of agriculture on the environment? Big decisions are ahead at the next international Earth summit.


There is little point in me trying to explain here why the UN's earth summit in Rio de Janeiro in June is so important (aka Rio+20 as it is being held 20 years after 1992's seminal summit). It would take too long - our Earth Debates partner, the Stakeholder Forum for a sustainable future, who are coordinating and guiding key discussions in the lead-up to Rio+20, has identified 97 key issues (see the tag cloud below) - and besides our Earth Debates pages online already do a very clear job of this and will point you to all the right places for more information.


What's more vital is that the Museum needs your input now on the big issues that will be acted upon at global level in June. We need your thoughts on a sustainable green economy for the world or your local area, and all your favourite bugbears that go with it, as part of our ongoing Earth Debates.

Each of our four Earth Debates, with its four panellists and invited audience, is broadcast live from the Attenborough Studio on our website. The format of each debate is like BBC’s Question Time and you can watch it live, follow or contribute your questions or comments using #earthdebates on Twitter, or post your views to our online community before, during and after the event.


The next Earth Debate is this Wednesday 22 February from 19.00 to 20.00 GMT where the panel and studio audience will ask Beyond GDP - how can we measure progress? This debate will question the alternatives - like measuring our wellbeing and the value of the environment - to the traditional measures of economic growth and and asks what is needed for businesses and governments to invest in a green economy rather than exploit it.


Bookmark the link to the webcast and to #earthdebates on Twitter to join us on the night.


Missed the first Earth debate on 25 January about the price of nature? Watch the highlights in this short video clip which features debate chair Tim Radford, panellists Professor Sir Robert Watson, Claire Brown, Ian Dickie and Will Evison, and audience member Tony Juniper.

Earth Debates logo


'Business as usual is absolutely unsustainable... but we also have to show business that there are solutions.' An extract from the closing comment of Defra's Robert Watson in January's first Earth Debate.

Watch the whole of the first debate Ecosystem economics - can we put a price on nature? (video of the 1st Earth Debate).



The third debate will tackle Green cities in a green economy - how to pioneer a sustainable transition? on 14 March 2012, followed by the fourth debate Food security - how do we feed 9 billion people in 2050? on 11 April 2012.


Find out more online about our Earth Debates and the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro


Get more information on the the Stakeholder Forum for a sustainable future and their priority concerns.


The entries have been pouring in for the 2012 Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition but I can't believe there's just under one week to go before the competition closes.


The entry period has flown by this year, even though there's been almost an extra month due to the early opening in December for the first time. If you want to be in with a chance of winning, you will need to submit the very best of your wildlife photographs and catch the deadline of 23.59 GMT on Thursday 23 February.


The competition is open to everyone, from budding amateurs to professionals to young photographers across the world, but you'll need images that stand out from the crowd to get the judges' notice during the thorough selection process. So, for last-minute entrants, here are a few suggestions:


From those of you just starting out to those of you already firmly established in your chosen field, there are categories for everyone. Whatever your favourite subject is, be it plants, insects, reptiles, underwater shots, landscapes, urban wildlife, mammals and birds, or more find the category that is best-suited to your skills and interests before you enter. And if you can tell a riveting story through a series of themed photographs, then the photojournalism category could be the one for you.


Whatever your age or your experience, get the judges to stop in their tracks with a new angle or an evocative and innovative use of technique or framing and you'll be part-way there.


From common subjects to once-in-a-lifetime events, enter photographs that turn them into moments of magic, like this year's Boy meets nature by Alexander Badyaev, Pelican perspective by Bence Máté, Swoop of the sea scavenger by Roy Mangersnes or the techinical simplicity of Great tit poised from one of our youngest entrants in 2011, Corentin Graillot Denaix.



Urban wildlife is full of surprises as captured perfectly in Alexander Badyaev's 2011 winning image, Boy meets nature. From bats in cabins in the Montana wilderness, to coyotes on railway tracks in Canada's Burnaby to Moorish geckoes on the Italian Riviera, last year's winners in this award really captured the moment. (Click images to see them full size)



We must have all seen pictures of pelicans before, but none quite like this. Bence Máté's award-winning photograph doesn't just provide a different perspective, it frames the pelican's most recognisable feature in a fantastically unique way and was just one of a captivating series that won Bence the Eric Hosking Portfolio Award in 2011.



With its striking silhouette and the tight-framing of its subject, Roy's highly commended photograph successfully reflects the sheer size of the white-tailed eagle shortly after it's successful swoop to scavenge a fish.



Keeping the adult entrants on their toes...  one of the youngest 2011 award-winners was Great tit poised by Corentin Graillot Denaix in the Under 10 years category. His simple but carefully framed shot was taken in his garden where he observed the birds who visited the hide constructed by his dad.


It's photos like these above that make us catch our breath at the unimaginable wonders of our world. So, whatever your passion, pay heed to some wise words from the youthful Mateusz Piesiak of Poland, the 2011 Veolia Environnement Wildlife Young Photographer of the Year who won with his Pester Power oystercatchers. Mateusz says:


"I started with a compact camera and then in 2007 had a major breakthrough in my development when my parents bought me a digital SLR. I also met several nature photographers who showed me how to approach birds and build special photographic hides. As the months and years passed I learnt the secrets of photography and became infected with the rather incurable disease that is bird photography!


"I think that what counts above all in photography is creativity and the ability to look at a commonly captured subject and make something new out of it, something that nobody has ever seen before."


All the information you need to enter the competition is online, so good luck!


Haven't seen the 2011 exhibition yet? You've got until 11 March to catch it here at the Museum in London (attend in the morning if you can to enjoy more space at the exhibition).


Can't make it to the Museum? See where where it's touring next, throughout the UK and worldwide.


I bet Hertfordshire, the home of our Tring Museum, is covered in snow as I write this blog. And lots of local children will be getting even more over-excited than usual as they start their half-term holidays this weekend.


Another source of excitement is sure to be the opening of our Tring Museum's Animal Record-Breakers exhibition earlier this week.


As well as the chance to gasp at incredible records and feats in the animal kingdom as we run up to the Olympics, the exhibition has lots of entertaining games and challenges for children.

Big beetle displays. Rhinoceros and dung beetles in the Scarabaeidae family are among the strongest animals for their size. Some species can carry up to 850 times their own weight.


I asked Alice Adams, Tring's Manager who helped design the exhibition, about its first week.


'Since we opened on Monday, all the kids and especially the two visiting schools have been having brilliant fun in the exhibition. Parents and teachers taking pics of the kids with the horns, the animal sounds have been intriguing them and seem to be inspiring lots of animal noise-making from the kids - mostly howling wolves.


Try out the Archerfish game or see what you look like in horns at Tring's new Animal Record-Breakers exhibition.


'The archerfish game is getting a good pounding too. Great to watch the kids get the hang of it and see their faces when they get the ball through the flap and it pops out at the bottom of the tree.


'Several kids were in awe of the shark head and disgusted by the chunk of whale blubber!! Made up for though by the gorgeous iridescent hummingbird.'


From the scary to the pretty. Left: Mako shark head, Isurus oxyrhynchus. Sharks have a better sense of smell than any other fish. Right: Purple-throated carib, Eulampis jugularis. Hummingbirds have the fastest wingbeats in the bird world.


The exhibits explore the animal champions and runners-up so you'll find out the fastest, loudest, longest, most dangerous and much more.


The Animal Record-Breakers exhibition is free and well worth a visit at half-term or if you're visiting the Tring area over the coming months.


Read the latest news story about Tring's Animal Record-Breakers exhibition opening


animal-records-paperback-book.jpgAnd if you want to know more, there's the Museum's Animal Records book by Mark Carwardine. It's on sale at Tring's exhibition and online. The book inspired the exhibition and is packed full of fab facts and photos.


Our Blue Zone's Images of Nature gallery welcomed a new temporary Australian-themed exhibition yesterday, showcasing the Museum's impressive 18th-century First Fleet collection of watercolours and drawings.



‘Mr White, Harris and Laing with a party of Soldiers visiting Botany Bay Colebee at that place, when wounded’, Port Jackson Painter/Watling collection. Watercolour, c1790–1797.


The British First Fleet arrived in Port Jackson (now Sydney) in January 1788, when 11 ships carrying about 1,400 people landed to establish the first penal colony. Among the sailors and convicts on board were draughtsmen, artists and forgers. They painted and drew the new landscape, its wildlife, and the Eora Nation clans who inhabited the area. Despite their lack of scientific accuracy, the images in the First Fleet collection are some of the most important in the Museum, providing a snapshot of a key moment in Australia's history. They are beautiful, telling images that provide rare natural history and ethnographic records.




Left: Waratah, Telopea speciosissima. Port Jackson Painter/Watling collection, watercolour, c1788–1797. The waratah is New South Wales' official floral emblem. Right: Southern cassowary, Casuarius casuarius. George Raper, watercolour and ink, 1792. This cassowary lives in the rainforest of northern Queensland.


In the first rotation of 32 First Fleet artworks on display now, you'll find gems like the cassowary and the well-known Waratah (above), official floral emblem of New South Wales, along with stranger-looking species like the Large pretty pink-winged stick insect below. There are also striking portraits of local tradesmen in the collection - often with dramatic stories to tell. The next selection of First Fleet artworks will be installed in the gallery in April.


The 600-strong First Fleet collection came into the Museum as three smaller ones known as the Raper, Watling and Port Jackson Painter collections after the artists whose work they contain. The drawings attributed to the Port Jackson Painter are thought to be the work of several unidentified artists.




Above. Large pink-winged stick insect, Podacanthus typhoon. Thomas Watling, watercolour and ink, c1792–1797. There are almost 150 species of stick insect in Australia.


The perspective of the Aboriginal Australian people who had been invaded, however, was not recorded in the First Fleet works. So our temporary exhibition features two newly-commissioned installations by Aboriginal artist Daniel Boyd whose provocative work comments on that ommission.


At the end of last year Daniel spent several months as an artist-in-residence here at the Museum researching and creating the pieces that are on show in the gallery now. He was putting the finishing touches to his installations last week.



Above: Australian Aboriginal artist Daniel Boyd unveils his Up in Smoke Tour installation in the Images of Nature gallery. Watercolours, 24 Museum archival boxes. Right, installation detail.


Daniel's work comments on the loss of native cultures recorded in the First Fleet collection, particularly on the British perception of Port Jackson at the time and the Aboriginal Australian people. It's the way these historic images obscure the original indigenous identity that interests the artist. His work in the gallery has also been inspired by the Museum's anthropological collection and he features Museum specimen boxes in his installations.



An earlier work by Daniel Boyd. We Call Them Pirates Out Here, 2006, oil on canvas. The work is kept in Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art collection.


Daniel joins today's free Nature Live talk about The Art of the First Fleet (7 February) in the Attenborough Studio. And so too does the Museum's special collections librarian Lisa Di Tommaso, whose book explores The Art of the First Fleet. So pop along to the Darwin Centre's Attenborough Studio at 14.30 to hear and see more of these fascinating works first-hand.


Browse the Images of Nature gallery slideshow


Explore the First Fleet collection online


Watch artist Daniel Boyd on video discussing his new artwork and cultural background


Today, our Scott's Last Expedition exhibiton opened to the public after a week of media coverage and VIP events in the exhbiition gallery, to mark the centenary of Captain Scott reaching the South Pole on 17 January 1912.

Museum mineralogist David Smith and exhibition interpretor Elin Simonsson introduce HRH The Princess Royal to some of the scientific exhibits in Scott's Last Expedition at the VIP launch event on 19 January. The exhibition opened to the public today on 20 January.

Among the VIPs who attended the exhibition's launch party were HRH The Princess Royal (above) who opened the exhibition as its official patron, and Sir David Attenborough (below being greeted by Museum director Dr Mike Dixon).


The VIP guests were still packing out the shop at the end of the evening when the party was officially over, so engrossed were they in our Polar-themed books and merchandise on display.


So what of the exhibition itself? My first impressions on entering the gallery are of the stark contrast of warm-brown domesticity inside the Antarctic base camp wooden hut - the central focus of the exhibition - against the frozen-white surroundings of the unforgiving Antarctic landscape. And how these elements are so beautifully brought to life in the photographs and films of the expedition's photographer, Herbert Ponting.


Browse our Scott exhibition highlights slideshow to see what's in store


Above and below: The main exhibition gallery space is designed as a life-size, walk-through representation of the Antarctic hut where Scott's shore party of 25 men lived and worked for the 3 years of the expedition. At its centre is an animated table showing how the hut's own central table was used by the crew members during the years at Cape Evans. Select images to enlarge them.


One of the remarkable things our exhibition really demonstrates is the wealth and quality of visual and scientific records that Scott's Terra Nova team has given us. But then Scott's aim wasn't just to be the first to reach the South Pole on this expedition. He had planned an ambitious scientific programme, and to that end 12 scientists accompanied his expert exploration team, along with the first ever professional photographer to go on an Antarctic expedition, Herbert George Ponting. As a result, the expedition brought back a huge collection of specimens, 40,000 of which are in the Museum's collection, and a rich photographic and cinematic Antarctic archive. Some of the most iconic and treasured of these feature in the exhibition.


Left: Officer Evans dressed for outside, as photographed by Ponting. Right: Herbert Ponting's cinematograph camera, a hand-cranked British Prestwich 35mm cine camera. Ponting was one of the first photographers to capture short video sequences on the ice.

Alongside treasures like the Cape Crozier emperor penguin egg and extracts from Ponting's fascinating film the Great White Silence, you'll frequently be surprised by homelier objects such as Huntley & Palmer expedition biscuits, a gramophone, extracts from Scott's and others' diaries and letters, Pontings cine camera, and of course many items of essential sledging clothing.


Inside the exhibition's hut area, visit Scott's cubicle where, in his prolific writings, he penned much of his famous diary entries and expedition observations.

At the end of the exhibition journey, sit a-while in the cinema space and watch films that explore Scott's scientific legacy to Antarctic research, and find out what's being done today to preserve the Cape Evans hut.


In Antarctica today, Captain Robert Falcon Scott's only grandson, Falcon Scott (above), is helping conserve the Antarctic base camp with a specialist conservation team and you can read about Falcon's visit to the Cape Evans hut in the Antarctic conservation blog.


Find out about Scott's Last Expedition and book tickets online


Read our news article about the opening of the exhibition


Discover what life was like in Scott's base camp with Museum spokesperson Louise Emerson in the BBC Online audio slideshow

Explore Antarctica online

Finally, see how elegant the Museum's Central Hall looked last night for HRH The Princess Royal's opening of Scott's Last Expedition...

It's been a long wait, but the wall and graphic panels and display cases for our much-anticipated Scott's Last Expedition exhibition have arrived from Sydney, where the Australian National Maritime Museum's version of the exhibtion ran until October last year. After a long journey, all parts of the exhibtion are finally together here in the Museum, busily being prepared before they are moved into their new home in Dinosaur Way’s Jerwood Gallery. (And following its stay with us, the exhibition travels on to Christchurch in New Zealand.)


Behind-the-scenes exhibition photos show some of the wall panels and work in progress as the installation of Scott's last Expedition nears completion. Select images to enlarge

About 200 items including original objects, specimens collected on the Terra Nova expedition, and artefacts ranging from books and clothes to food and scientific tools used by Captain Scott and his team, will be positioned in the exhibition gallery starting today. These are the things that will really bring to life the expedition’s many stories and the team’s everyday activities, alongside the incredible archive imagery and film footage.


But as I saw yesterday and in these behind-the-scenes gallery photographs (above and below), the exhibition space is now really taking shape. All the wall-mounted images and information panels are in place and set the scene for the epic journey that awaits visitors from 20 January when the exhibition opens. You’ll notice the timber surrounds that take their inspiration from the Cape Evans hut, which was the base for Scott's expedition during its time in Antarctica. Our life-sized, walk-in representation of the hut with its central ‘animated’ table will be finished on Friday.


Colours in the exhibition space have been chosen to reflect the history and legacy of the Terra Nova expedition: from purples for Edwardian England to white for leaving the hut and snow; black for the team’s return journey and blue for the contemporary part of the narrative.


Antarctica is of course the dramatic backdrop to this exhibition which covers the Terra Nova expedition from many different perspectives. From the exhibition’s starting point - 1913’s tragic news of the death of the Polar Party - to the final cinema area showing films which explore the lasting impact of the expedition, visitors will get a real sense of the awesome landscape, enormous scale and harsh conditions of the continent.


Watch this space and our website for more news of the exhibition’s progress. Next week, on 17 January, TV and media crews arrive to get their first glimpse of the finished exhibition.


Find out more about the Scott’s Last Expedition exhibition and buy tickets online

We may decorate our homes at Christmas with holly wreaths and robins on cards - visiting a relative recently, I counted at least 10 robins on Christmas cards - but I believe their bursts of bright red are also there to lure us outdoors at a time when we often want to stay indoors. They are the perfect symbols of nature's festive cheer.
Wildlife Garden holly. The red holly berries are easy to spot in winter and they're only on the female trees. Although toxic to humans, they are an important food source for birds, lasting longer than many other fruits even after frost.

Children's wishes for a white Christmas this year may be sadly unanswered, but the mild weather does mean that on your winter walks you might actually spot some unusual things. And you can also help us in our Great holly hunt by telling us what holly you find locally and where on our online urban tree survey map.


Last week, which was decidedly colder around parts of the country, the Museum's film unit went to record Museum wildlife expert Fred Rumsey on a very wintry walk through the woods near our Tring Museum in Hertfordshire.


Watch our lovely festive video and find out what you could discover on a winter walk near you and who the mystery nibbler is...



Although many birds migrate over the winter there are still lots of garden birds out and about, including cheeky robins. In the Museum's Wildlife Garden in South Kensington, Caroline Ware, the garden's manager tells me:


'There are 7 moorhens pottering around and feeding in the Wildlife Garden which is very unusual for this time of the year and bluebell leaves are already  appearing in the some of the woodland areas. We've had lots of bird  species visiting the bird feeder including bluetits, great tits, coal  tits and greenfinches, as well as robins. On the ground there are feeding dunnocks, and squirrels and mice are rushing around, and even invading our garden shed.'



Territorial Strut by Ross Hodinutt. This award-winning image in the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011 exhibition captures the robin's renowned perkiness beautifully. Ross snapped it in his Devon  garden in the unusually cold spell last December.

On our Wildlife in winter page you'll find ideas for seasonal surveys to take part in, species to spot, and wildlife watching tips.


Read the Great holly hunt news story to find out some fascinting facts about this festive shrub, there's even a tea you can make from it...


Browse our Festive Season pages for suggested seasonal activites at the Museum if you're visiting. The Ice Rink and Veolia Environnements Wildlife Photographer  of the Year exhibition are not to be missed.


Holly trees (Ilex species). The most well-known species in Britain is the common or European holly, Ilex aquifolium, one of only three native European species.


Robins (Erithacus rubecula) are one of the few birds to sing all year round. They do so to defend their territory and attract a mate. Their spring song - more powerful and upbeat than their melancholy autumn song - begins from mid-December.


Happy Christmas and New Year to you all.


Feeling festive yet?

Posted by Rose Dec 9, 2011

Feast your eyes on these cuties that greet our Museum shop visitors. Our seasonal selection of soft toys are as cuddly as they come, from penguins to arctic foxes and reindeer to polar bears.

New festive gift shop recommendations this year are the big radio-controlled inflatable clownfish and shark air swimmers, and the little wind-up dinosaurs. Of course no home should be without either a cow poo photo frame or rhino-poo-in-a-box banana tree kit, and there's more to choose from in the Museum's range of green gifts. Browse our online shop for Christmas gift ideas or the four Museum shops on your visit.


'Hello. I'm more cuddly than you...' 'Yeah but I'm a dinosaurrrr' Click the images to enlarge.

Our Festive season pages are swirling with suggestions for entertainment and activities over the Christmas period and the outdoors Ice Rink is open late over the holidays, except for Christmas Day.


The next special festive event is our Winter Wonderland Night Safari with MasterCard on Monday evening, 12 December. This seasonal Central Hall tour promises to reveal some intriguing specimens, including real mammoth hair, a polar bear fossil discovered in London, and Dinosaurs by torchlight (above), as well as a look at the botany of Christmas.


Following that is the kids' favourite sleepover, Dino Claus on 17 December, which also includes a Dinosaurs torchlit tour. And if you can't make the Santa-led sleepover in December, there are more Dino Snores coming up next year year - tickets a terrrific Christmas gift for little dinosaur lovers?


There are lots of other events, talks and activities to enjoy over the festive period, whatever age you are and the unmissable Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011 exhibition, with beautiful, wintry award-winning photos available in the exhibition shop or as prints online. (Note the last day to order in time for Christmas delivery to the mainland UK is 19 December and 15 December for prints.)



The Museum is only closed for 3 days over the festive break, on 24 to 26 December inclusive. So come and visit during your days off work. And if you can't make it, remember you can always shop online or find ideas of wildlife in winter to explore near you.

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