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Big Nature Day was a scorcher

Posted by Rose Jul 23, 2013

The weather was glorious for our annual Big Nature Day on Saturday 13 July. Over 4,000 visitors joined us to explore the best of British wildlife in and around the Museum, and soaking up the best of the British heatwave too.

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Examining insects and pond life at the outdoor displays in the sunny Wildlife Garden - among the most popular activites at this year's Big Nature Day. Select all images to enlarge them.
11 child-snake-close-up.jpgTiny hands get a close encounter with the smooth snake which was brought along by the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation group.

Lucy Robinson, the Museum's citizen science manager and worm charming aficionado, reports back with the day's highlights:

 

'The marquees and Wildlife Garden were packed with over 30 stands showcasing wildlife as diverse as dragonflies, ferns, snakes and insect-eating plants. The Spotty Dotty puppet show attracted lots of the younger visitors with ladybirds and insect friends.

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Left: The Spotty Dotty puppet show entertained the young ones and taught them about ladybirds and more. Right: Lucy reading out the worm charming rules before the teams got stuck in.

'Our worm-charming competition on the front lawn featured some fierce rivalry, but sadly no worms (who were sheltering deep underground from this hot weather!). Neither fork-twanging, stamping or even music could bring the worms to the surface. However, people could see and hold live worms at the Earthworm Society of Britain's stand in the marquee, so they didn't go away too disappointed.

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Worm charming competitions on the front lawn in full sway - participants could twang forks, stamp and make music.

 

'Some unusual and intriguing things the visiting nature groups brought included carnivorous plants from the South London Botanical Institute, a large metal hedgehog sculpture from the People's Trust for Endangered Species, and some live reptiles courtesy of the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation trust.

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The People's Trust for Endangered Species stand showed off a fabulous hedgehog sculpture and invited hedgehog mask-making.

'One of the challenges of organising the event was how to keep the reptiles cool on such a hot day – we had to freeze lots of ice packs and wrap them in fabric in their tanks to give the reptiles a cold area where they could cool off when not entertaining our visitors.

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Left: Discovering unexpected animals on the ladybird hunt. Right: Spider expert Tom Thomas from the British Naturalists Association leading the spider safari in the Wildlife Garden.

'Making pipe cleaner dragonflies with our dragonfly curator Ben was also really popular (they made over 400 dragonflies before they ran out of materials!). And the spider safari through the Wildlife Garden led by expert Tom Thomas from the British Naturalists Association, along with some fabulous face and body painting.attracted many fans.

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Fantastic and original face painting was a hit with families as was zooming in on invertebrates.

'Visitors told us the best parts of the day were seeing the wildlife specimens and meeting all the different nature societies. Kids raved about being able to look through the microcopes, touch the snakes and make lots of things.'

 

Thanks Lucy. We were also told by our Wildlife Garden team that over 60 insect hotels were made by enthusiastic young visitors, using recycled plastic bottles which they filled with reeds from the Wildlife Garden pond.

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Other kids' favourites included the Amateur Enomologists' Society's New Guinea spiny stick insect, the chance to become the Museum's latest specimens on display (right), and dissecting owl pellets (below) with the London Natural History Society.

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And the Species Recovery Trust shone the spotlight on some of the UK's rarest species... starved wood sedge, pictured below.

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Roll on the next Big Nature Day in 2014.

 

Get more involved in the UK's nature activities and local wildlife that matters to you

 

Explore the Wildlife Garden this summer and go pond dipping

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They may be small and spotty, but ladybirds were certainly one of the most photographed and collected creatures on our Big (and blustery) Nature Day at the Museum. Actually, this may cause our scientists a bit of concern because many of the ones found were the invasive harlequin ladybirds, Harmonia axyridis.
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A selection of ladybird photos taken on Big Nature Day. Top row: All harlequin ladybirds, first is a larva. Bottom row: Left, an orange harlequin; middle and right, a 7-spot ladybird emerging from its pupa - its yellow colour turns to red in about 24 hours.

On the day hundreds of visitors, including many excited children and myself, joined in the Big Nature Count, a bioblitz of the Museum's Wildlife Garden. Researchers and volunteers were out and about with traps, nets and  cameras, conducting samples of wildlife in the 24-hour nature census. A  big malaise trap tent had been set up for flying insects, light traps  for moths and pitfall traps - little jars in the ground - to attract   ground beetles and slugs.

 

We were celebrating the International Day for Biological Diversity on 22 May. It was sure to be a busy event. With over 300 plant species in the garden there is a lot to attract a wide variety of insects.

Watch the Big Nature Day highlights in this video

The meeting point was the Base Camp tent outside on the Darwin Centre Courtyard, where groups could follow Big Nature Count guided tours with our Museum scientists. But many people simply made their own trails through the Wildlife Garden.

 

Inside the Base Camp tent, scientists sorted through the samples collected. There were lots of things to see, like a huge stag beetle that I even let run across my hand.

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Base Camp: Visitors and researchers sift through samples collected and get hands-on. Right: Investigating plant galls on a sycamore leaf, the red swellings are the plant's defensive response to attack from mites. Select all images to enlarge them

Out in the Wildlife Garden on our discovery trails, we stopped at various tables dotted around the meadows and ponds. Here, helpful experts suggested places to search. On the tables were displays of creatures and samples already collected. My favourite place was the pondlife table. I got rather attached to a shy toad.

 

Heading into the Darwin Centre atrium after our garden adventures, we had some of our photos printed and added to the Photo wall (below left). After that, it was off to the Specimen Roadshow (below right) to marvel at Ed Buller's flies and wasps, Sandy Knapp's vegetable extravaganza and some 'mucky' soil identification tests.

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Because of the gusty weather, there weren't many moths collected in the traps set the night before. And the

recent dry spell meant the worms decided to stay underground. Emma Sherlock who led the worm charming sessions said:

 

'There were lots of people, but not many worms sadly. Strangely the winning worm charming technique was the stamping while playing the tamborine... hmmm!'


big-nature-day-specimen-roadshow.jpgOur entomologists, however, were excited to discover an unusual fly in the day's bioblitz. The little drab wood soldier fly, hasn't been seen before in the Wildlife Garden. Read the news story about the unusual fly found in the Museum's garden bioblitz.

 

All in all, hundreds of plant and animal species were found in the Big Nature Count. Most of the creatures collected were set free after they had been recorded, but a few individual specimens will be kept in the Museum's collection because they are important for research. It will take a bit more time to identify everything and interpret the findings so we can understand more about our local wildlife, but we hope to have a final count shortly.

 

Look out for a video account of the day coming soon.


Find out more about the Wildlife Garden

 

Learn more about harlequin ladybirds


Get involved in British natural history

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Here's one of my favourite photos taken at the Big Nature Day of a flower beetle, Oedemera lurida, feeding on the pollen of an ox-eye daisy.
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There's no doubt about it, when you join us for our Big Nature Day extravaganza this Sunday on 22 May, you'll get your hands dirty.


But that's pretty essential if you're going to help our scientists and wildlife experts in the Big Nature Count to find and identify how many different species of plant and animal there are in our Museum Wildlife Garden. It's a 24-hour census - or a bioblitz race for those familiar with the term -  to celebrate International Day for Biological Diversity and International Year of Forests, as well as the start of the UN's Decade on Biodiversity.

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Can you handle it? Find out which worm charmer to be on Big Nature Day with our experts in the BBC film clip on our website

As Stuart HIne, manager of our Centre for UK Biodiversity says: 'We have many visitors to the Wildlife Garden, from our regular human ones to more unusual visitors such as honeybees, damselflies and hawkmoths. In fact, since the garden opened in 1995, we’ve recorded more than 2,000 different species and it would be great to know what's about on Sunday.'

 

Along with the regular Big Nature Count guided tours, worm charming (above) will be a popular highlight of the day. There are two sessions at 12.00 and 15.00. The recent rain should help lure the worms to the ground's surface. Although we're hoping that the sun will shine gloriously on the day, of course.

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Spot the spots on the ladybirds you find and watch out for cockchafer May bugs on the Big Nature Count guided tours. Select images to enlarge

Other garden action includes the Bugs Count, Tree Hunt, moth trap checking, investigating pond life, and check out the Bee Tree.

 

Inside the Darwin Centre, head over to the Specimen Roadshow to identify your favourite specimens (or bring in a picture) and there are nature talks in the Darwin Centre's Attenborough Studio.

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Look around and above, plants and trees may hide moths (like this Poplar hawkmoth, left) and butterflies. There are eight common trees in the Wildlife Garden to identify. Select images to enlarge

Take pictures on the day

Most important of all, though, bring your cameras or have your mobile phone to the ready to snap the species you do manage to spot. With these, you can help us create a spectacular Photo Wall in the Darwin Centre atrium at the Interactive Media area. You can print your pictures here for the display or upload them with your comments to our Big Nature Day guestbook on the computers available or at home afterwards.

 

Big Nature Day is a free, drop-in event that will appeal to all ages, but you'll need to book on the tours and worm charming sessions.

 

When you arrive at the Museum head for the West lawn or Darwin Centre atrium where you'll be directed to the Base Camp in the Darwin Centre Courtyard, the hub for the day's activities, and where you can see lots of special displays.

 

Keep up to date on our Big Nature Day website for the Big Nature Count tours schedule and latest information

 

Get prepared for the activities on Big Nature Day by watching some great how-to nature videos on our website

 

Explore the Museum's Wildlife Garden

 

Discover what else is on for the International Year of Biodiversity

 

Visit our newly-launched Decade on Biodiversity website

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Yann Arthus-Bertrand film treats at the French Institute on 22 May and on the International Year of Forests website

If you want to see an amazing nature documentary by The Earth From Above photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand, head over to the nearby French Institute for a special free screening of Home at 18.30. Our Museum botanist Sandy Knap is introducing the film. Although it's free you need to book a place on their website.

 

Find out about booking for the special screening of Home at the French Institute

 

You can also catch a glimpse of Yann's special short fiilm for the International Year of Forests on the official website