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Wildlife Garden blog

October 2012

Volunteers play an essential role here in our Wildlife Garden. They help with practical tasks including planting and pruning, composting and coppicing or messing about on the pond – more about this later…


Observing wildlife is also part of the day’s work for wildlife gardeners and volunteers.


Since the day the Garden opened, our gardeners, volunteers, Museum scientists and other specialists have recorded some of the many species that have colonised or visited it.  Of the 2,300 taxa entered on to our database, notable records have been collected over the years from groups including moths and butterflies, dragonflies and waterfleas, bryophytes and lichens - and more.


The image below shows a sample of sightings this year - mainly collected during mid week ‘lunch-time recording sessions’ when some of our scientists come outside and share their knowledge, sandwiches and survey methods. Below are some photographs of those lunch-time moments, from August and September this year.


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A small selection moths from the previous night’s trapping including Jersey tiger moth (foreground)

Image: Jonathan Jackson NHM



We set our moth light trap as often as weather permits (so not very often this year!). Martin Honey, Lepidoptera curator, who has recorded and identified over 500 species of moths in the Garden, has a wealth of knowledge, and has patiently taught some of us all we know about moths. Once identified, the moths are carefully released back into the Garden.


We spotted the sawfly larvae below during a walk exploring leaf mines and they were initially mistaken as caterpillars but, as Museum lepidopterist Alessandro Giusti explained, the larvae of sawflies (Symphyta) have at least 6 pairs of abdominal legs (pro-legs) compared to 5 or less on Lepidoptera caterpillars. When disturbed, as these were, the larvae lift and curl their abdomen over their heads. Lepidoptera caterpillars also have sclerotized hook-like structures at the end of their prolegs, called crochets. These allow the caterpillar to hold on to surfaces. Sawfly larvae don’t have crochets. However, one might need a hand lens to see these structures.



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Sawfly larvae on willow – taken by volunteer Sophia Pomiakowski

Stuart Hine, Manager of the Angela Marmont Centre and 'bombuslucorum' on our Identification forums identified these sawfly larvae as Nematis species.

Blow flies have been studied in the Garden but up to now, very few other families of flies (Diptera) have received the same attention.This year, we are learning to love flies, and records have greatly increased since the Museum’s Erica McAlister and Duncan Sivell set up a ‘malaise trap’ earlier this summer. We will be reporting on malaise trapping in the next few weeks so more on the ‘what and how’ at a later date.




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Wildlife gardener, Daniel Osborne examining the malaise trap with a little help from our sheep



Adrian Rundle, Learning Curator, has led pond life workshops in the Garden for the past 12 years, and has been running training sessions for Wildlife Garden volunteers this summer. We'll share more pond moments in future blogs.


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Volunteers Tommy Fieldsend and Alex Lynch investigating pond life during an Explore Aquatic workshop with Adrian Rundle

Image: Naomi Lake (c)



More of our wildlife sightings in the Garden next week...




A wren searching for insects amongst the seed heads of wild angelica with blackbirds and robins singing nearby, a moorhen family feeding on a pond, great tits and blue tits singing in the tree canopy and sheep grazing contentedly in the meadow… it’s hard to believe I had just crossed the busy Cromwell Road seconds ago and was now starting the day at my place of work, the Museum’s Wildlife Garden.


Actually the constant hum of the nearby traffic becomes insignificant in this setting behind the screen of plane trees in the Museum grounds, for many years with its entrance hidden away at the end of the West Lawn, but now made more accessible via a new entrance outside the Darwin Centre of the Museum’s Orange Zone.


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This Wildlife Garden – the Museum’s first living, permanent exhibition and the inspiration of Museum botanist Clive Jermy - opened in 1995 following five years of planning, landscaping and planting. It was designed to illustrate a range of semi-natural habitats found in lowland Britain such as chalk downland, meadow, woodland, hedgerows, heathland and fen and ponds.


From the start the main aims of the garden were to:


… illustrate the potential for habitat creation and wildlife conservation in the inner city; to provide an educational resource for visitors to the Museum; to promote an understanding of lowland Britain’s flora and fauna; and to provide a resource for naturalists and students to undertake species recording and ecological monitoring work.



It has since also become an area for peace and contemplation where visitors and staff can quietly observe wildlife in the city. 

Near the garden’s entrance wild marjoram, salad burnet and lady’s bedstraw are among 70 or so plant species that illustrate chalk downland; that is until the sheep came in August to graze the fading flowers and grasses.


Sheep can be seen grazing our meadows in late summer to autumn






Heather, gorse and bristle bent make up the heathland – recently restored with a grant from Western Riverside Environmental Fund 


The paths meander through the garden habitats. Hints of fen wetland with iris, ragged robin, marsh fern and sedges may be seen close to the pond and reedbed. Woodland areas include oak, silver birch, field maple, hornbeam and holly. Primroses, bluebells, greater stitchwort, red campion and wood millet are just some of the plants that create a woodland floor in spring with crab apple and wild cherry provide blossom in the canopy.



Bluebells earlier this year


In late summer, the woodland areas are darker, with different shades of green and hints of autumn – dog’s mercury, enchanter’s night-shade and the occasional pink of red campion. Blue tits and long-tailed tits are commonly seen flying in the canopy of silver birch and oak, searching for late caterpillars, bugs and other insects – while jays are busily gathering acorns and hazelnuts. Blackbirds toss and turn leaf-litter and other debris while robins follow us around in hope of a few worms or insects turned up by our work.


Countryside management techniques are practiced on a small scale in the care of this living exhibition. Hazel is coppiced and woven into stock-proof fencing. Grassland is grazed. Hedges are laid. 

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Newly laid hedge


Since the garden opened over 2,300 species of plants and animals have been recorded and there are many more to discover. Perhaps you can help us? This weekend we will be hosting our Hedgerow Harvest event where you and your family can take watch a professional hedge layer at work, meet hedgehogs and take part in pond dipping, soil surveys and more.


From March to October we regularly hold special events to encourage our visitors to discover what could be in their own garden and the joys of the British countryside, so keep an eye on our website for upcoming events.


We hope to see you here, but if you can’t make it to the Museum, you can find out what we’re doing by reading our new blog. Together with fellow wildlife gardeners, I’ll be sharing some of our observations through the seasons and providing snapshots of our working day with seasonal updates and stories about some of the plants, insects and animals that fill the Museum’s living and working collection.