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Polar circles, tropical rainforests, wide savannahs, scorching deserts, glacier-covered mountains and solitary islands. Taking a last spin around Sebastião Salgado's Genesis exhibition in our Waterhouse Gallery I realised that were still so many images that I missed on my other visits. And just how amazing it is that this man has actually been to all these incredible places.

 

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It must have been awesome to witness one of the Yali people perched on this bending tree in West Papua's misty mountains. Or be entertained at the Papua New Guinea Singing Festival by this intense-looking performer (below). Just imagine the thrill of coming across the cathedral-like iceberg in the Antarctic Peninsula, and being splashed by the southern right whale in Argentina's Valdes Peninsula. Unforgettable experiences mastered into unforgettable pictures.

 

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It took Salgado eight years to produce his ambitious 'visual tribute to our fragile planet'. The exhibition gallery bustles with the life and landscapes that he has captured so passionately and powerfully through the medium of black and white photography. There are over two hundred photographs - in all shapes and sizes - to ponder over and just tomorrow and Sunday 8 September left to do it here at the Museum!

 

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If you miss the exhibition at the Museum you can take solace through buying the book online. Or check Salgado's own Facebook Page for news of where the exhibition is travelling on to - more international venues are rumoured.

 

But in another eight years will some of the landscapes and communities he captures still be the same? If you want to know more about endangered species and their habitats in our world it's also the last weekend to see our Extinction exhibition. You can get a friend into Extinction for free when you buy a ticket for the Salgado exhibition with our 2 for 1 offer.

 

Hopefully there won't be much of a wait for more wildlife photography at the Museum because Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 opens to the public on Friday 18 October.

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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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Talking of butterflies

Posted by Rose Jun 7, 2013

Outside the Museum there are now about 700 free-flying tropical butterflies enjoying the exotic undergrowth of our Sensational Butterflies house. 'In 6 weeks there may be more than 1,000,' our butterfly house manager Luke Brown tells me excitedly, with news of the first zebra butterfly larvae appearing. These should metamorphose into 100s of adult butterflies over the next few weeks.

 

The enchanting yet fleeting stars of our butterfly show never cease to captivate us and this Sunday, Luke will be giving visitors to the Museum an extra flutter in his free talk in the Attenborough Studio. The half-hour talk, A House of Butterflies, runs at 12.30 and again at 14.30 on 9 June.

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Meet Heliconius charitonia commonly known as the zebra butterfly, and Luke Brown (below) commonly known as our butterfly house manager, in our butterfly house and find out more about both at our free talk this weekend. Close up zebra courtesy of Inzilbeth.

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Accompanied by colleague Kerry, Luke's talk will explore some of our most-loved species including his own personal favourite, the zebra butterfly, Heliconius charitonia (pictured above). He hopes to bring along some caterpillars, eggs and specimens (but no live butterflies as they might not like the lights in the studio) and talk a little about the history of the butterfly house and the exhbition itself.

 

The first butterfly house arrived here in 2008 and has become a regular spring-summer annual attraction at the Museum, following a brief absence last year. This year's exhibition which opened at the end of March has been the most successful to date.

 

A butterfly fan since he was a little boy, Luke asked for a greenhouse for his sixth Christmas and ended up running his own company, The Butterfly Gardener Ltd and putting on butterfly shows all over the world. He looks forward to the continued success of Sensational Butterflies and taking his passion further afield to places like the Middle East and Brazil, with a personal project planned for the south coast.

 

Drop into the talk if you can and especially if you're visiting the Sensational Butterflies exhibition. Go on your own butterfly trail through the Museum taking in the Cocoon building and the Wildlife Garden nearby.

 

Don't forget to send in any great photos of butterflies wherever you may snap them and from inside Sensational Butterflies to our Pinterest board for a chance to win some butterfly goodies.  My recent favourites are of the glasswing and butterfly shoes, and congratulations to last month's competition winner.

 

Find out about visiting Sensational Butterflies and tickets and other butterfly events

A House of Butterflies is on 9 June and Butterflies in Disguise is on 15 June

Check out The Butterfly Gardener website

 

Get help with identifiying butterflies and caterpillars

 

If you can't make it to the Museum for our free events, we also webcast some live. Look out for these talks next week: The World I Want and Extinct Ice Age Giants

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This week we're celebrating our wonderful volunteers - about 450 of them at the Museum - as we join in the nationwide Volunteers' Week activities taking place from 1-7 June. As we usually do each year, we're holding a big party just for them in our Earth galleries and adjoining Deli Cafe, with lots of food, drink and entertainment planned, to say a huge thankyou and also to thank our volunteer managers.

 

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Last year's party celebrations for our volunteers and volunteer managers, held in the Museum's dramatic Earth galleries.

 

Ali Thomas, our Volunteers Project Manager, reminds us:

 

'Our brilliant volunteers are among the many treasures we hold at the Museum. They are not just a fluffy aside to what we do but are so integral to our work behind the scenes and to our future.

 

'Thank you to all our volunteers, who despite mostly being hidden away from public view, take part with such vibrancy, enthusiasm and dedication. This week's celebrations are in your honour.'

 

If you've visited the outdoor butterfly house this spring, you will have encountered several of the 45-strong group of friendly, informed volunteer staff who help guide the young and old alike through the colourful high-fliers of the Sensational Butterflies exhibition. They do such an amazing job, they've already received 100s of enthusiastic compliments (on feedback forms) since the exhibition opened in April.

butterfly-volunteers-atlas-moth.jpgOne of our much-appreciated Sensational Butterflies volunteers, Rosemary, making friends with a giant atlas moth in the butterfly house.

 

In the public galleries, our Learning volunteers continue to engage with visitors daily, and over the last 12 months have interacted with 119,825 people. Our Learning volunteer programme is now in its 9th successful year and you will see and talk with them throughout the Museum.

 

You can look in on another group of volunteers at work every Thursday in the Darwin Centre Cocoon's Specimen Prepartion Area. These volunteers are currently helping on the V Factor scientific project to collate and digitise our diatom collection. There is a new display of Indonesian coral fossils on show in the Museum's Dinosaur Way, which puts the spotlight on the previous V Factor project and volunteer input.

 

'We so enjoyed V Factor and are so thankful to the Museum for setting up this initiative and making it availalbe to young people such as Hannah, who has a very different style and needs more support than the average young person,' enthused one of the previous participant's mums.

 

fossil-coral-pics.jpgIndonesian coral fossils which V Factor volunteers helped to prepare for research. Some are on show in the Museum's Dinosaur Way.

 

We have 12 Museum volunteers nominated for the Kensington and Chelsea Volunteer Awards this year, so fingers crossed. We will report back on the Volunteers' Week celebrations and activities in our next volunteers' newsletter.

museum-volunteers-kc-awards.jpgMuseum volunteers with their awards at last year's Kensington and Chelsea Volunteer Awards ceremony.

 

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Rain or shine, it's half-term time

Posted by Rose May 25, 2013

As ever, there are heaps of things to do at the Museum over the half-term holidays and you don't even have to come inside the building to enjoy all of them. Just step into the outdoor Sensational Butterflies house and meet 100s of live ones (and it's warm in there), enjoy a coffee or ice cream by the lawn's cafe kiosk, or take a stroll in the lovely Wildlife Garden and its bustling ponds to meet London wildlife among the daisies and buttercups.

 

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Left: An awesome Atlas moth in the butterflies exhibition, snapped by our butterfly house manager. Why not take your own butterfly pics inside the exhibition or at home and enter our Pinterest competition?

 

On Saturday and Sunday, 1 to 2 June, the Wildlife Garden is the focus of our free Bat Festival weekend, which also spreads its wings into the Museum's Darwin Centre for extra displays and talks, so make some plans if you're a batty friend.

 

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Tadpoles, yellow rattle, buttercups and the thriving bee tree in our spring-filled Widlife Garden, which also hosts the Bat Festival on the weekend of 1 to 2 June. Below, batty action at last year's festival.

 

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Inside the Museum, there are over 30 wonderful galleries to explore and the chance to book in advance for the ever-popular Dinosaurs, as well as puppet shows, hands-on activities and investigative fun. Browse our What's on for kids section to get the best recommendations.

 

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Left: Fossil corals display in Dinosaur Way. Right: The roaring jaws of the sabre-tooth cat in the Extinction exhibition - look out for our 2for1 ticket vouchers for Extinction in the Museum.

 

For more grown-up stimulation, there's a choice of two major ticketed exhibitions, Sebastaio Salgado's Genesis and Extinction. Or you could drop in to one or more of the many free talks in our Attenborough Studio scheduled through the week. Starting Sunday 26 and ending on Wednesday 29 May, the talks include live-links to the Isles of Scilly where the Field work with Nature Live team are accompanying Museum scientists performing their research. The Treasures Cadogan Gallery is also a must for anyone who wants to get to the heart of the Museum in one gallery.

 

Volunteers week, 1 to 7 June, coincides with the half-term holiday break and you can get a look at some of the Indonesian fossil corals volunteers helped to prepare for research in a new display cabinet in Dinosaur Way. Or take the lift up to the Specimen Preparation Area in the Cocoon on 30 May to see our new volunteers actually at work.

 

Keep up to date with our What's on and What's on for kids pages.

Find out more about volunteering at the Museum

Read the Wildlife Garden blog

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Great auk, great loss

Posted by Rose May 15, 2013

May is the month for remembering the greatness of the great auk and why its tale of extinction is one we should not forget. The flightless great auk, Pinguinus impennis, is one of the most powerful symbols of the damage humans can cause. The species was driven extinct in the 19th century as a consequence of centuries of intense human exploitation.

 

At a free talk here tomorrow afternoon, Museum scientist Robert Prys-Jones will explore the Life and Death of the Great Auk, with particular reference to the Museum's own iconic Papa Westray great auk specimen.

 

This celebrated Museum specimen, shown below left, is the only British example of this bird in existence. It was collected 200 years ago in May 1813 from the tiny island of Papa Westray, one of the outer Orkney Islands. The great auk talk is being webcast live for those of you who can't make it here to the Museum's Attenborough Studio.

 

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Left: The Museum's rare Papa Westray great auk.
Right: Specially commissioned great auk taxidermy model on show in our Extinction exhibition.

 

I spoke to our bird curator Jo Cooper before she set out for the great auk bicentenary festival being held in the Orkney Islands this weekend, 17-19 May. She explained a bit about the history of our treasured great auk specimen and the importance of the festival.

 

'I’m making a pilgrimage to the tiny island of Papa Westray where one of the Museum’s most iconic specimens was collected 200 years ago this month. The Papa Westray Great Auk was one of the last of its kind in Britain, and is the only known surviving British example of this bird which went globally extinct in the mid-1840s.

 

'The Papa Westray specimen was purchased by the British Museum in 1819, after its original owner, William Bullock, sold up his entire vast collection of natural history specimens and other curios in a sale lasting 26 days.'

 

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Fowl Craig on the island of Papa Westray in the Orkney Islands, home of the last British great auks. A pilrimage to this spot takes place during the great auk festival this weekend.

'Sadly, our rare specimen is now too fragile to travel safely, so the Museum and Site-Eye Time-Lapse Films have produced a 3D ‘virtual’ Papa Westray Great Auk so that people can still have an encounter with this historic specimen. The virtual auk will be premiered on the island that the original specimen came from, but we have plans to show it more widely later in the year.

 

'We hope that by helping tell the story of the Papa Westray Great Auk during this festival, people will have a greater understanding and appreciation of what has been lost forever from our British bird community and perhaps this will inspire a greater care of what we have.'

 

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You can discover more about the great auk's plight in our Extinction exhibition here at the Museum and get close to a specially-commissioned taxidermy model of a great auk diving. Or go on a Museum trail and find another great auk specimen on display (left) in our Treasures Cadogan Gallery.

 

Follow The Life and Death of the Great Auk webcast live

 

Visit the Extinction: Not the End of the World? exhibition

 

Discover more about the great auk on our website

 

Read about the Papa Westray great auk in our Treasures book

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Extinction's tigers wake-up call

Posted by Rose May 10, 2013

Tune in to Channel 4's Sunday Brunch programme this weekend between 9.30 and 12.00, to catch the Museum's Richard Sabin discussing a rare Tasmanian tiger specimen which he'll be showing the presenters, Tim and Simon.

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The last Tasmanian tiger pictured here died in Hobart Zoo, Tasmania in 1936.

As Collections Manager of Vertebrates at the Museum, Richard will be highlighting the importance and scientific relevance of our collections to extinction and conservation research and discussing our Extinction exhibition.

 

The Tasmanian tiger, also known as the Tasmanian wolf or thylacine, Thylacinus cynocephalus, is thought to have become extinct in 1936 - the last-known animal lived in Hobart Zoo, Tasmania. It's probable that humans contributed to this Australian marsupial's decline, but the precise reasons for its extinction are not certain.

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Richard Sabin, Collections Manager of Vertebrates, with one of his favourite zoological specimens - now a star attraction in the Treasures Cadogan Gallery - Guy the gorilla that is, not Richard!

 

Richard will also be talking about other exhibits and themes in the Extinction exhibition. One of the focal points of the exhibition is, of course, tiger conservation (Panthera tigris). With less than 5,000 left in the wild, this is an emotive subject, and one that many of us feel strongly about.

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Extinction exhibition's central display: a tiger and cub, with confiscated tiger fur coat.

 

So far, in the exhibition's tiger conservation poll, 68% of visitors have voted 'yes we should save the tiger,' while 26% have voted 'no, we should focus on another species,' and only 6% chose 'maybe, but only if it doesn't cost too much.'  What do you think? Leave a comment below.

 

If you don't catch the programme, it is likely to be on Channel 4's online player, 4oD, but there is also the exhibiiton to visit here and a series of special extinction-related free talks too. The next of these is on Monday, 13 May, and highlights Earth's Biggest Mass Extinction at 14.30. We'll be webcasting Thursday's The Life and Death of the Great Auk so you can watch that one from the comfort of your own home or during an early afternoon coffee break at work.

 

Other guests on the Sunday Brunch programme include former Spice Girl Mel C and comedians Danny Wallace and Jason Manford.

 

Find out more about the Extinction: Not the End of the World? exhibition

 

Browse our Recent extinctions web pages

 

Conservation projects and videos

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The weather looks set to be fine for the May bank holiday weekend, so why not head down to the south coast where you can join our scientists and other festival-goers at the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival?

 

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Lyme Regis Fossil Festival, 3-5 May, full of fossil discoveries, arts, entertainment and coastal treasures. Select all images to enlarge.

 

The 8th annual Lyme Regis Fossil Festival on Dorset's renowned Jurassic coast is taking place from 3 to 5 May. The theme of this year's festival is 'Coastal Treasures' and as well as the fossil displays and talks, there is an abundance of entertainment for all ages. Perhaps a toe or two will be dipped in the sea too...

 

 

Get a glimpse of the experience in the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival's video

 

A big team of our scientists and learning staff have already set off for Lyme - we are regular partners of the event - and they will be setting up stalls in the Grand Marquee's Fossil Fair, which is open to the public on Saturday and Sunday.

 

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Mapping the Lyme rocks the mobile way on a coastal walk.

 

Among the intriguing specimens the scientists will display and discuss are ammonites, fish, sharks and a replica Baryonyx skull. They will join many others on fossilteering walks on the beaches and be leading hands-on activites like sieving for sharks' teeth, identifying visitors' fossil finds, and revealing the wonders of the 407-million-year-old Rhynie Chert rock deposit.

 

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Museum specimens on display this year: Fish and shark specimens found in Lyme Regis (left). Ammonite 'death assemblage', a common fossil found in Lyme Regis (right).

 

Nearer home in South Kensington, we're linking up live on video to the festival in our free Nature Live fossil talks in the Attenborough Studio on both Saturday and Sunday (12.30 and 14.30) if you're visiting the Museum.

 

There is, of course, a vast array of incredible fossils in the Museum itself, but specially look out for Fossils from Britain gallery, the Fossil Marine Reptiles gallery and our Earth Lab on your next visit.

 

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Are frogs on their last legs? Not if we and all the frog fans out there can help it. The Museum's Wildlife Garden joins the awareness action this weekend as the venue for the UK's Save the Frogs Day, hosted by the Froglife charity.

 

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'Help, I can't find my pond...' Save the Frogs Day is on Saturday 27 April, come along to our event in the Wildlife Garden or join in where you are. Image: Common frog, Rana temporaria, courtesy Silviu Petrovan.

 

As well as the fun stuff like pond-dipping and decorating your own tropical frog models to take home, there will be lots to learn about ambiphians and their conservation at our event here on Saturday, 27 April.

museum-garden-pond-may2012.jpgThe Museum's large pond in its Wildlife Garden: Home to amphibians like the common frog, toad, and common newt, and many more aquatic animals. Enjoy some pond-dipping at our Save the Frogs Day event on Saturday.

 

If you can't make it to the Museum for Save the Frogs Day, here are some quick tips of how to help conservation wherever you are:

 

  • Listen to and share comedian John Shuttleworth’s Save the frog song
  • Tweet your froggy pics and support to #Savethefrogs
  • Don’t move frogs or frogspawn - particularly important at the moment when frogs are arriving in local ponds
  • Don’t release pet amphibians (or any other animals) into the wild
  • Report any dead or ill amphibians in your garden to Froglife
  • Add Water and dig a wildlife pond in your own garden
  • Make your gardening organic and chemical-free
  • Support amphibian conservation projects

 

With more than 5,800 species currently identified, frogs and toads are the most familiar and most abundant amphibians on the planet. But the sad fact is that UK populations of frogs are under threat from disease and habitat loss. They make up 32% of the already large fraction (one-third) of amphibian species that are threatened with extinction.

 

9780565092627-with-drop-shadow.jpgThe ranavirus disease and destruction of local ponds are among the causes for our frogs' decline. These factors can wipe out a local population in a short time (ranavirus is a disease that Froglife has been aware of since the 1980s and there is an ongoing research project with the Institute of Zoology to help stop the spread of the disease.)

 

If you want to immerse yourselves more in the amazing world of frogs and toads, the Museum's guide to Frogs and Toads by Chris Mattison is really comprehensive and beautifully illustrated (above and right).

 

Find out lots more about frog conservation on the Froglife website

 

What's the difference between frogs and toads

 

Learn about freshwater pond habitats

 

Identify your frog or amphibian find on our ID forum

 

Follow our Wildilfe Garden blog

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Easter highlights at the Museum

Posted by Rose Mar 28, 2013

From spotting exotic butterflies in the just-opened Sensational Butterflies exhibition out on the Museum's East lawn and examining real beetles in the Darwin Centre to discovering the most perfect thing in the Universe - the egg, or is it chocolate(?) - in a free talk, there’s heaps on for all ages at the Museum over the Easter holidays.

 

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You can book free timed entry tickets for the Dinosaurs gallery if that’s what you’re planning to visit. But, if things get too busy in that area of the Museum, find your way to the Darwin Centre where kids will enjoy doing our Quest for the Curious challenge, and head over to the Red Zone on the other side of the Museum to enjoy the awesome Earth galleries and more amazing dinosaur displays in From the beginning (note, the earthquake simulator is offline at the moment while our Power Within gallery is closed for refurbishment).

 

 

Get a sneak peek inside the tropical butterfly house of Sensational Butterflies in the video above.


quest-curious-1000.jpgJoin in the Quest for the Curious challenges (above) at our week-long Easter free event for all the family.

 

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How about doing your very own dodo trail? You'll find this iconic creature features in quite a few places in the Museum, including in the highly topical Extinction exhibition, the Birds gallery and in our recently-opened Treasures Cadogan Gallery (there's one more place too, but I'll leave you to discover it).

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And look out for the 416 flower pots installation in the Images of Nature gallery as part of our India contemporary art exhibition.

 

Check our What’s on and What’s on for kids sections for the details of what to do during the holiday period, and follow NHM_Visiting on Twitter for updates on queues.

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It's two weeks to go until the Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013 competition closes for entries on 25 February. Since we launched on 7 January, the images have been flooding in. And photographers have been very appreciative of the new registration and entry process, which we spent many months developing to improve image uploading and editing for entrants.

 

With these precious few days left to get those best shots submitted, I asked Gemma Ward from the Competition office for some thoughts on the kinds of images she always hopes to come across.

'Among the ones that I'd draw attention to from the 2012 competition winners is Dog days by South African photographer Kim Wolhuter. The wild dog is endangered and many photographers have chosen it as their subject in the past. But Kim went about it in a different way by telling more of a story. By including the African wild dog’s environment - the cracked earth – Kim created a graphic yet poignant backdrop that is so apt for this category, which highlights endangered species.'

 

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Kim Wolhuter has filmed Zimbabwe's endangered wild dogs for four years. Dog days won the Gerald Durrell award for Endangered Species in 2012. The mosaic mud landscape epitomises the increasingly fragmented world this puppy is growing up in.

'Another similar kind of mastery can be seen in Dipper dipping by the very young Danish photographer, Malte Parmo. Again, we see many images of dippers, but this one is actually 'dipping'! I love the way he really caught the essence of this bird in his picture and its full of 'caught-in-the-act' energy.'

 

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Young Malte Parmo was commended in the 10 Years and Under award for his image of these birds at a stream near his home in Copenhagen. He said of Dipper dipping, 'I think I managed to get the feeling of running water and an almost vibrating active dipper, its head under the water looking for food.’ Select all images to enlarge.

'Two other good examples of contrasted creativity,' says Gemma, 'are Sandra Bartocha's experimental Light show in the Creative Visions award category and Robert Zoehrer's geometric Hare in a Landscape which deservedly won the Nature in Black & White category.'

 

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Light show: As the snow started to melt and a thick fog wrapped itself around the forest near her home in Potsdam, Germany, Sandra Bartocha experimented with a mirrorless camera and tilt lens to get the layers of sharpness and blurriness in this magical image. Her picture was specially commended in the 2012 Creative Visions award category.

'We never know what images we receive year to year - waiting for the judging to start is always exciting - but I can’t wait to see fresh pictures; images that we haven’t seen before which wow the jury and raise the bar yet again and which play an important role in moving the competition forward.’ Gemma Ward, Competition office

 

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Hare in a landscape won the 2012 Nature in Black & White award. Robert Zoehrer's photo of a motionless brown hair sitting in a steep, yellow ploughed field lacked a focal point when it was in colour. ‘Once I saw the image in black and white,’ says Robert, ‘not only was the stark geometry highlighted but also the small hare became the centre of the composition rather than being lost among the colour.’

 

March will see the start of Round 1 in the judging process, when the immense challenge of sifting through all the 1000s of entries begins.

 

Find out about entering the 2013 competition

Visit the 2012 exhibition at the Natural History Museum in its final weeks

Interview with Roz Kidman Cox, wildlife and environmental writer

 

To give you some insight into the judging process and what kinds of things the judges consider in the selection process, we recently interviewed Roz Kidman Cox. Roz has been involved with the competition since 1981 and judged 32 of them. Here's what she has to say:

 

1. What’s more important – good equipment or a good eye?

Roz: Top equipment doesn’t make a top photographer – if it did, everyone would be taking marvellous pictures. With wild subjects, you do need certain lenses to get close enough for certain pictures. So equipment can be a limiting factor, for underwater photography in particular. But without a good eye and some heart and soul, you need a lot of luck to take a truly top shot.

 

2. Can you describe the moment you’ve found a winning photo? How does it make you feel? What makes a photo stand out?

Roz: It can be truly exciting to see a beautiful or outstanding picture make it to the top – that’s part of the joy of judging. (And there is often real sadness when a picture doesn’t quite make it.) Originality is often a crucial element. But it isn’t everything. A good picture has to last – and last – and move you every time you see it.

 

3. Can you tell the difference between an amateur of professional photo?

Roz: No, not when it comes to the finals. And that’s the beauty of judging anonymously. Of course, a technically bad picture is not likely to have been entered by a professional, and so in the early stages, it is possible to guess.

 

4. What are your favourite images from the 2012 competition?

Roz: The winning image this year, Paul Nicklen's Bubble-jetting emperors, is a picture I will never get tired of. And Steve Winter's Last look in his winning Wildlife Photojournalist of the Year sequence, is the most beautiful portrait of one of the last wild Sumatran tigers anyone will see.

 

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Last look by Steve Winter, in the sequence that won him the 2012 Wildlife Photojournalist Award, is one of Roz's favourites from 2012's winners. Steve's challenge to photograph this shy and critically endangered Sumatran tiger was to be in exactly the right position to get the tiger lit up centre-stage in front of the dark forest habitat.

 

5. Which categories are least popular?

Roz: I’m not sure that ‘popular’ is the right word. If you mean numbers of entries, portraits always comes to the top, presumably because it is far easier to take a good portrait than, say, to take a beautiful shot that also shows behaviour. Among the three behaviour categories, birds always comes out on top, because there are more birds than mammals (and lots of birdwatchers who become bird photographers). But few people seem to specialise in macro-photograph, which is why the ‘other animal’ behaviour category has comparatively few entries. But in terms of popularity of choice, I would suggest urban wildlife is at the bottom, as few people seem to choose to photograph subjects in an urban setting, though it is open to all to do so, whatever your equipment or situation.

 

6. Why do some photos get moved into different categories?

Roz: If there is a particularly strong picture in a particularly strong category that would do better in another one, we may move it at the very last stages of judging.

 

7. How likely/unlikely are you to pick photos which raise current political issues?

Roz: If a photograph makes you think, it will stand out in the judging. And if the subject is something which is both important and current, that will add to the power of the picture. So, yes, the judges will select shots that communicate powerful messages that are relevant.

 

8. How important is the message behind the photo rather than the beauty or technical excellence of the photo itself?

Roz: The aesthetics are what are judged first in all cases. Pictures entered for the World in our Hands or the photojournalism awards need to have a message or a story, but they must also be technically and aesthetically strong. So a picture of a very rare animal or bit of behaviour may not get through to the end if it isn’t also aesthetically strong.

 

9. How much of the picture information is read out to the judges – how anonymous is it really?

Roz: We judge the pictures blind, and we don’t see any of the information supplied by photographers. So if a picture needs to tell a story, that story has to be apparent. We may, however, ask the manager for details of the shot itself, e.g., where and how it was taken, if we are worried about anything, or even ask for the photographer to be contacted with questions, if there is a particular concern.

 

10. How subjective or objective are you / can you ever be as a judge?

Roz: Judging can never be totally objective unless there is a black-and-white/yes-no system of scoring. But there are enough judges to make sure that there is a consensus when it comes to selecting the final one hundred, and a good-enough mix of nationalities and backgrounds. And, yes, everyone’s cultural background affects their likes and dislikes, and everyone brings with them a memory storehouse of imagery.

 

11. Have you ever seen photos go through to the final selection that you haven’t agreed with?

Roz: Yes, of course – and ones drop out that I would have liked to be included. But that is part of the judging process. The great thing about the display of the final selection is that winning and commended pictures are displayed at the same size – only the overall winner is shown larger. This was a decision taken in the early days, to recognise that commended pictures can be as good as the winning ones.

 

12. What happens if there is stalemate / tie?

Roz: There can’t ever be a stalemate as there is always an uneven number of judging in a session. Also, the chair does have the power to intervene.

 

13. Will it count against someone if their image has been widely seen?

Roz: If your image has been widely seen, it will lose in freshness and impact. That said, if it is strong enough, it should last, however many times it is seen. Few, though, are strong enough. What certainly won’t get through are imitations of past winners or of well-known compositions.

 

14. What would you hope to see from our young competitors?

Roz: Originality and an eye for a good composition are what stand out. The subject certainly doesn’t have to be exotic or rare.

 

15. What tips do you have for young competitors entering this year?

Roz: A young person who knows their subject well will sooner or later find the opportunity to take something different or original. They will know when and where and will have time to work out how, which sometimes requires fieldcraft as much as technical knowledge.

 

16. What kind of photos would you like to see more of?

Roz: Personally, I think it is a shame we don’t seem more pictures of plants, pictures that convey their beauty or extraordinary nature. I also think there are so many missed opportunities that to take memorable pictures of nature in urban situations.

 

17. Do you have a sense of responsibility, as a judge?

Roz: Most certainly. The evenings during a judging week are spent worrying about whether you have made the right decision.

 

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The jury gathered at the Natural History Museum for the final round of the 2012 competition judging.

 

18. What is the experience of judging really like?

Roz: Judging can be quite stressful and is certainly demanding. You have to keep questioning yourself and your own decisions, you have to be capable of expressing just why you do or don’t want a picture to go through and you have to be able to resign yourself to a majority decisions. It’s a feast of imagery, but that also means you have to have breaks in between to let the pictures rest in your mind. Often when you return to see the same pictures again, the impact of those first impressions will have faded enough for you to be able to let go of some shots. And the fact remains, that you have to look for reasons to exclude pictures if thousands are to be reduced to hundreds. But what is remarkable is how the best pictures retain the strength of those first impressions.

 

19. What is the atmosphere like in the judging room?

Roz: There’s always a good atmosphere. It’s an exciting and challenging thing to do, but we don’t come to blows (and only once in more than 30 years do I remember an unproductive argument). We do, however, argue strongly if there is a division of opinion, with the chair acting as mediator. Such discussions are often thought-provoking and stimulating, especially with such a variety of judges from different cultures and countries. It does get tiring, though, seeing so many pictures. So a plentiful supply of coffee and tea is essential, as are breaks.

 

20. What makes the contest so unique?

Roz: It is the world’s biggest showcase of photographs of nature, and it is still the most prestigious, which is why even the top photographers enter. To win or be commended in this competition really does mean something, and many careers have been made through the coverage that winning has brought.

 

21.  Where do you think the competition is going / where would you like it to go? How has it changed?

Roz: In the years before the internet, the publication and exhibition of the winning and commended pictures was often the only way that wildlife photographers in different countries got to see and learn from each other’s work. So it became an important showcase and visual education for many aspiring photographers. The quality as well as the quantity has continued to rise as more people have access to cameras and as evolving digital equipment has allowed photography of subjects and situations that wouldn’t have been possible just five years ago, let alone in the days of film. I would hope the annual collection of imagery continues to inspire and that all the different audiences who view it worldwide are continually reminded just how amazing and beautiful the natural world is. The competition also has a role to play in showing how important photographs can be in storytelling. Finally, I still hope that, one day, the art world acknowledges that pictures of wild places and wild creatures can be regarded as art.

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It's just one week to go until our Extinction exhibition opens. As I write, installers and designers are frantically putting the finishing touches to the displays, visuals and lighting in time for its unveiling to the public on 8 February.

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The exhibition's tiger display - in the process of being installed - is sure to be one of the main attractions in our Extinction: Not the End of the World? exhibition opening in the Museum's Jerwood Gallery on Friday 8 February.

 

It's full steam ahead,' says Alex Fairhead, the exhibition's developer, who is very excited about the new slant this show will put on the subject of extinction.

 

Alex explains:

'Usually people only ever think of dinosaurs and dodos when they talk about extinction. In Extinction: Not the End of the World? visitors will discover the positive side to extinction and that the animals and plants we see today would not have survived if others had not first become extinct. There will also be opportunities to discuss modern conservation, see the conservation successes and failures, and consider whether we're now on the verge of the next mass extinction.’

 

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Just why did the dodo die out, but not the leatherback turtle? This and many crucial life-and-death conundrums will be explored in our Extinction exhibition. This new dodo reconstruction has been made especially for the exhibition based on current scientific research.

 

'Understanding extinction underpins all of the scientific work of the curators and researchers at the Natural History Museum and is crucial to discovering more about the evolution of animals and the natural world.' said Alex.


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Rustic wood reclaimed from a 150-year-old cotton mill is the fitting theme of the exhibition's design.

 

And it's not just the array of creatures featuring in the great story of extinction and survival that is impressive, but the design of the show itself. The design of the exhibition has taken the subject matter of the exhibition to heart:

'As you can see,' describes Alex, 'the rustic recycled-wood furniture that has recently been installed, looks fantastic. Minimising our use of natural resources was key to the exhibition’s design. The reclaimed wood was originally used for the flooring in a 150-year old cotton mill in Lancashire. If you look closely you can still see where the joists were.'

 

From the gigantic skull of Chasmosaurus belli - one of the last land-dwelling dinosaurs to become extinct - that greets you at the gallery entrance, the new scientifically-accurate dodo, the awesome tiger, giant elk antlers, to the cool interactive 3-console Extinction game and more, this is an exhibition not to be missed by those who care about the natural world.

 

Find out about the Extinction exhibition and book tickets online

 

Glimpse some of the featured species in our Exhibition image gallery

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On the evening of 24 January 2013, comedian and naturalist Bill Bailey unveiled this striking portrait of Alfred Russel Wallace at the top of our grand Central Hall staircase, near to the Charles Darwin statue.

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As they gather around the famous Diplodocus bones in the Museum's most impressive meeting space, visitors can now enjoy the gaze from on high of the two greatest figures in natural history - not to mention the two greatest beards.

 

The unveiling of the painting marked the official launch of Wallace100 and the Wallace Letters Online resource which are part of the celebrations in this year's anniversary of Wallace's death. The Museum plays a central part in these activities and forthcoming events.

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Guests at the Wallace100 launch event taking photos of the portrait being unveiled. Sir David Attenborough was among those who attended.

 

Alfred Russel Wallace 1823 - 1913 was an intrepid explorer, brilliant naturalist and remarkable intellectual. It's sometimes overlooked that he co-discovered the process of evolution by natural selection with Charles Darwin. But this year's anniversary events should help redress the balance.

 

As a long-time admirer of Wallace and also the Patron of the Wallace Memorial Fund, Bill Bailey has been in the media spotlight a lot of late talking about Wallace's under-recognised contribution to our understanding of the natural world.

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Bill Bailey and the Museum's Wallace expert, Dr George Beccaloni (right), at the unveiling in our Central Hall.

 

Museum curator and Wallace expert Dr George Beccaloni (above right), tells me how pleased he is to see the portrait return to its original place near the statue of Charles Darwin after an absence of over 40 years:

 

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'The Central Hall is a beautiful space, but it has always struck me as being a little "cold" and my aesthetic sense was disturbed by the fact that the memorials on the wall of the central staircase are asymmetrical - there being nothing on the wall above and to the right of the Charles Darwin statue to match the monument to Selous on the opposite side.

 

'With the unveiling of the Wallace painting both problems are gone. The space seems a lot warmer with Wallace looking benevolently down at the crowds and the painting fills the empty gap superbly on the wall near Darwin. Perfect!'

George Beccaloni

 

The magnificent oil painting by artist J W Beaufort was donated to the Natural History Museum in 1923. At its original unveiling, the President of the Royal Society said of Wallace and Darwin in his opening speech:

'Circumstances arranged that the discoveries of these two men came, as it were, at the same moment and on the very same theme side by side before the scientific world. Such an attendant circumstance might, in some cases, have proved an embarrassment to one or other of them, but, as we all know, instead of being an embarrassment it formed a bond of generous association between them, each one of them striving to exalt the merits of the other. That part of the history of science will ever remain as a noble and inspiring feature connected with the work of these two men. Therefore the picture that we have there is not only a memorial of one whose memory is part of the historic treasure of science, but it will also be an abiding source of inspiration for the future, inasmuch as it represents a noble trait of character as well as genius, which went together in the personality of Alfred Russel Wallace.'

Follow the painting up to the newly-opened Treasures Cadogan Gallery to discover Wallace's insects on show. And you can find out a lot more about the history of Wallace's portrait in George's Wallace100 blog.

 

Read the news story about the unveiling and Wallace100 launch

 

Find out about the Wallace100 celebrations

 

Keep updated on all the Wallace events coming up at the Museum and nationally

 

Uncover the Wallace Letters Online

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It's just over one month since we opened our beautiful permanent gallery showcasing the Museum's 22 most prized objects and specimens. In that short space of time, 1,000s of visitors, including HRH The Duchess of Cambridge (and the little royal on the way) who opened the gallery, have already enjoyed Treasures in the new Cadogan Gallery. Many of you have also been voting for your favourite exhibit in the gallery, and in our new year Top 10 Treasures poll, being huge and hairy is stll a winner for Guy the gorilla, who's at Number 1...  (You can select each image below to enlarge it.)

Your top 10 Treasures

1. Guy the gorilla

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London Zoo’s much-loved resident, Guy, a western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), remains as majestic and iconic as he was in his time. Guy stands proudly at the righthand entrance of the Cadogan Gallery, at the top of the Central Hall's grand staircase, welcoming visitors into Treasures. It's great to think that he is regaining the popularity he had in life over 30 years ago. Listen out for our podcast coming soon, telling Guy's unique story from childhood star to preserved treasure here at the Museum.

 

2. Blaschka glass models of sea creatures

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Glimmering away in the gallery at the other end to Guy, the 3 delicate Blaschka glass artworks of sea creatures are as enigmatic and eye-catching. They were made with impeccable accuracy using techniques no one has been able to replicate since. Giles Miller, Curator of Micropalaeontology, tells the story of how the Blaschka's went from cardboard box to Treasure on display in his own blog.

3. Dodo skeleton

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The dodo skeleton on show is unmissable. There are so few complete skeletons that we may never know exactly how they looked or lived. The dodo is one of the first widely acknowledged cases of human-caused extinction. It's fame was secured by Lewis Carroll in his book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

4. Neanderthal skull

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This remarkable specimen in Treasures is the first adult skull of a Neanderthal ever discovered. They were our closest known relatives and this specimen helped begin the science of palaeoanthropology – the study of ancient humans.

5. Archaeopteryx fossil

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Archaeopteryx is the earliest known bird and this is the first skeleton specimen ever found. It is the most valuable fossil in the Museum’s collection. This is the type specimen of the species, the one to which all others are compared. So for many, the chance to see this Archaeopteryx in person is a special joy.

6 On the Origin of Species book

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We had to include this masterpiece in Treasures. It's an inspiration to view the rare first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. It is the most important book in biology, in which Darwin describes his theory of evolution by natural selection.

7. Great auk

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You might not all know it, but the great auk is one of the most powerful symbols of the damage humans can cause. The species became extinct not through habitat loss, but due to centuries of intense exploitation.

8. Alfred Russel Wallace's insects

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The gorgeous and diverse creatures in the insect case on display are from Alfred Russel Wallace’s personal collection. He co-discovered the theory of evolution by natural selection with Charles Darwin. He kept very few of the specimens he collected.

9. Barbary lion skull

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You can see why this lion was the jewel of the King’s zoo in the Tower of London 700 years ago. The skull and teeth are even more dramatic up close than we have already witnessed in photographs. It is also the oldest lion found in the UK after the extinction of native wild lions.

10. Hans Sloane's nautilus shell

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Exquisitely carved, it is easy to imagine why this perfect shell was one of Sir Hans Sloane’s favourite specimens. You can really appreciate the intricate details in the carving as you observe the exhibit. Sloane's huge collection forms the core of the British and Natural History Museums.

 

Make sure you experience these and the other 12 amazing objects in Treasures on your next visit to the Museum. Each is accompanied by scientific information and there is more to unearth on the digital screens in the gallery. Entry to the new gallery is free.

 

Vote for your favourite treasure online

Get a glimpse inside the Treasures Cadogan Gallery in our audio slideshow

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Enjoy the festivities at the Museum

Posted by Rose Dec 23, 2012

Christmas is upon us and it looks like it'll be wet rather than white, but no matter, the Museum is full of seasonal sparkle inside and out. If you are planning to visit over the festive period, remember we are closed for 3 days on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day - yes the dinosaurs and others get a few days a year all to themselves! Browse our Festive Season pages for more information about what's on.

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But remember our outdoor ice rink and cafe bar are only closed on Chrismtas Day, so check the Ice Rink website for opening times before coming. It's an especially magical experience at dusk or night-time.

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Step in out of the cold and you'll find last-minute Christmas presents and new year inspiration in the Museum shops and along the corridors, admire our colourful bauble-crunching dino displays.

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This year, you can book free tickets in advance for the Dinosaurs gallery (except for the 3 days we're closed). And as you leave the Dinosaurs, stop and have a look at the new Piltdown Man Hoax display case - while trying to avoid any little ones rushing off into the Dino Store which happens to be opposite.

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Another treat at Christmas is the chance to see Dippy, our Central Hall Diplodocus skeleton being lit up when a donation is made to our Central Hall renovation appeal. And I strongly recommend you venture up the Central Hall's grand staircase to explore the beasts and beauties (below) of our Treasures exhibition in the newly-opened Cadogan Gallery. It's free to visit.

 

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Look out for some of the most unforgettable wintry images like the gorgeous Moonset at sunrise image (below) in the ticketed Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition and over in the Red Zone's Earth galleries, don't miss a trip up the Globe escalator as you gaze at the celestial map above.

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On that celestial note, it just remains for me to wish you a wonderful Christmas time and very prosperous new year.

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