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The first flowers of the season are now bravely emerging - primrose, coltsfoot, wild daffodil and sweet violet - a welcome sign of spring and a reward for the hours spent raking plane tree leaves! These plants would have been submerged below thick piles of plane tree leaf litter, had we not removed the plane leaves last autumn - one of the tasks described by Nicky in the second part of her year in the life of a Wildlife Garden volunteer:


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Wild daffodil, Narcissus pseudonarcissus, on 22nd February

Image © Jonathan Jackson


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Sweet violet, Viola odorata, on 22nd February

Image © Jonathan Jackson


“As autumn arrives, the Wildlife Garden closes in October to the public to enable vital maintenance work to take place. The sheep are here grazing the meadow, and people are often surprised to see them in central London. With waders on I help to clear the pond of overgrown plants, hoping I won’t fall in.

The Garden is surrounded by plane trees which are non-native and protected but, as the leaves start to fall, the huge job of raking and recycling the leaves begins. The light levels are low now, the air crisp and us happy band of volunteers set to work.


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A thick layer of plane tree litter in December!

Image © Derek Adams



As I rake carefully around the plants and gather up the leaves, the soil is exposed and I notice a little robin is watching me, pleased that an unlucky worm or two is to be had. I see something else move and go in to investigate, and find a frog that probably isn’t too pleased about being disturbed.


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A robin, Erithacus rubecula

Image © Phil Hurst


“Excuse me but could you tell me if the huge department store is this way?" Startled, I look up at the railings on the street, “Yes just keep walking and it’s on your right, you can’t miss it”. For a moment I had forgotten that I was in the centre of a major city. There is a constant hum of cars and sirens and chatter of people outside the fence around the Garden, yet I hardly notice it as there are too many other things to grab my attention.

The autumnal colours are wonderful, the bright yellow cherry tree leaves and the red and green spindle leaves with cerise coloured berries are magnificent. Is that a fox in the trees who’s been watching me?  In a second he’s gone.

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Autumn colours

Image © Derek Adams


As the light starts to fade I look up at the Museum and it takes on a whole new look. I must confess the glass front of the Darwin Centre next to us gives some fantastic views and if I find the time I like to ride up and down in the lift just to take in that of the Wildlife Garden. I’m sure that wasn’t on any list of attractions!


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The Wildlife Garden as viewed through the windows of the Darwin Centre in December last year

Image © Sue Snell


When it's almost dark in the Garden, it’s time to go; the arrival of the Museum's Ice Rink and its accompanying carousel that light up the other side of the lawn is a sure sign Christmas is approaching. One last look before I head for home, I smile to myself and think what an amazing place.”


We look forward to another year working with Nicky.


For the past few days we have been coppicing and pollarding some of our hazel, alder and field maple, using the cut poles as binders and stakes for our woven fence repairs. Woven fences border the meadow and other areas where sheep-proof fences are necessary.


The woven fences are also reminders of one of our volunteers, John Chabrillat, who sadly died in November. John, originally from France, had lived in England for around 40 years and still retained an endearingly strong French accent. In retirement John worked as a conservation volunteer for several organizations including the Surrey Wildlife Trust and Ealing Council park rangers. He had been a volunteer in the Wildlife Garden since autumn 1997. John specialized in woodland management.


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John Chabrillat working on a woven fence


Always arriving in the garden promptly at 9.30 am on his appointed day, John often brought his own tools - such as bill hook or hatchet - cleverly wrapped up in newspaper to avoid any suspicion on the train. I was reminded of his hachet-carrying habit by Roger of the Surrey Wildlife Trust where John often worked in Nower Wood nature reserve


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John preparing coppiced stems for his woven fence



John shared his skills in coppicing, pollarding and hedge-laying and was always looking to perfect his own techniques by attending the coppicing workshops held here for Museum Members and volunteers.


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John learning how to ‘bodge’ during a woodland workshop


He taught us how to build woven fences using hazel and ash. Any surplus wood would be neatly sawn or chopped up and used for log piles created in his inimitable style. 


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One of John’s log piles – ideal habitats for toads, newts, fungi and many invertebrates


John worked on a variety of other tasks throughout the year including weekend sheep care. He was full of interesting facts and funny anecdotes and arranged reciprocal volunteer outings between Nower Wood and the Museum. He grew vegetables in his back garden and in summer months would present us with gifts of tasty home-grown tomatoes.


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John making a woven willow barrier


We have missed John since he ‘retired’ from volunteering nearly 2 years ago and, now we know he will not be returning, it seems fitting in this season of woodland work to remember John - a true woodsman -  and to describe the art of coppicing in his words, as they appeared in an article for the Wildlife Garden page of the Museum’s Membership magazine, Nature First in Spring 2002.


Coppicing by John Chabrillat, conservation volunteer:

"Although coppicing is generally associated with the open countryside, it also finds its place - albeit small - in the Wildlife Garden. Coppicing consists of cutting trees, preferably saplings, to ground level, and then allowing the stumps (or stools) to grow back for up to 12 to 15 years. This resulting growth is a straight piece of timber, ideal for weaving into fencing or hurdles, tool handles, or in medieval and Tudor days, wattles for wattle and daub houses. Hazel and sweet chestnut are still the main coppice trees in southern England, and sometimes English oaks are allowed to grow to maturity for heavy timber - this is called coppice with standards.


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Workshop leader, Rob Graham demonstrating coppicing in the Wildlife Garden


Coppiced woodland produces a better structure of growth than would occur naturally. Many more plants will grow and it provides a more attractive environment for birds and insects, including butterflies, as has been proven in conservation coppicing. It has been said that when man developed coppicing, it was the only time he improved nature.


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Coppiced woodland benefits spring flowers such as primroses (above) and bluebells and stitchwort (below)


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The practice may have been introduced in this country by the Romans. It is still widely practiced in France and Italy for firewood and charcoal production. It was certainly practiced in Norman times here, as ‘coppice’ is an Anglo-Norman word derived from the old French copez (to cut). In England it had become the most common way of woodland management by the end of the 13th century. Before the use of coal, it provided a renewable source of timber and firewood, which helped to maintain a constant supply of fuel for the iron industry without endangering the survival of woodland.


In the Wildlife Garden, hazel and ash are coppiced to provide supple and smooth stakes for ‘dead’ hedges, which make good stock-proof fences to control our summer sheep."


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One of John’s woven fences visible behind the sheep he loved to watch


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Goodbye and thank you John


As a thick layer of snow covered the Wildlife Garden this week we took a pause from practical tasks to avoid disturbing life hidden below the snow and, instead, took the time to reflect on a year in the life of the Wildlife Garden from the perspective of one of our volunteers, Nicky.


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The view across the main pond from the reed bed taken on Monday by Visit Planner Mark Humphries


"What does volunteering to work in the Museum’s Wildlife Garden involve and why do it? I have been a volunteer here for about eight years and I am part of a dedicated team that looks after the garden so I hope I can give you a good answer to that question...

The year starts with the coppicing and pollarding of trees during the cold of January, and creating a woven sheep-proof fence with the coppiced poles and stakes as preparation for the arrival of the sheep later in the summer (more about coppicing next week). Pruning, planting, weeding all occupy our time before the garden opens to the public on 1 April each year, with the aim of creating habitats that show the potential for wildlife conservation in an inner city.


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Nicky pollarding willow near the chalk pond


I always look forward to spring, with the opportunity it gives to watch the new growth start to emerge. The blooms of the first primroses always make me feel happy, as does seeing the movement of the moorhens through the undergrowth on their way to the ponds.


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Primroses - the first flower of the year in the Wildlife Garden


The many public events - including Spring Wildlife in April, the Bat Festival in June, Open Garden Squares Weekend, Big Nature Day, and all the way through to our Hedgerow Harvest autumn event - keep us all very busy. For these events many of the Museum’s scientists join volunteers and Wildlife Garden staff to set up stalls and displays, and to entertain and enthrall the visitors.

We also welcome the participation of and help from several outside groups such as the Bat Conservation Trust, RSPB and Hedgehog Street. The many activities, which include leaf rubbing, seed identification and plant sales - and let's not forget the teas with delicious home-made cakes! - are enjoyed by our visitors and it is very rewarding to be able to show them the fruits of all our efforts during the first half of the year.


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A scene from the annual Bat Festival - held in partnership with the Bat Conservation Trust.


One of my favourite activities is to help with the Seed Identification workshop held in the Wildlife Garden’s shed, which is hidden toward the back amongst the trees. Children and adults peer in at the door and, seeing the six microscopes set up, wonder if they should come in. With a little coaxing the visitors enter, peer into the eyepieces and, “I can’t see anything!” is the usual response.

I disarm them of their bags or ruck sacks. Children's lollypops are propped up in a glass jar and toy dinosaurs toy are put down on the table for a sleep. Then, once the new guests are sitting correctly, we can begin.


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A keen young scientist-in-the-making identifying seeds and fruits with Nicky


With microscopes focused, one hand on the seed tray and tweezers in the other, the response is now, “Wow, are these all seeds?” I explain that plants can be identified just by looking at the seeds and fruits, and soon they are busy picking out each specimen and matching it to the plant using the identification sheet supplied. For many visitors it is the first time they have looked down a microscope and done something scientific.

It requires a lot of patience but I feel really pleased when visitors want to take home their seeds and fruits and identification sheet, but especially when some now want to have a microscope of their own. A whole new world awaits them!


Outside these events I have the opportunity to attend a variety of workshops for volunteers (more about these another time), carry out summer jobs such as weeding, and help with species recording. Plant recording though the seasons is something I really enjoy: I usually team up with another volunteer and, with plant recording sheet, hand lens and a field guide in hand, we soon get our eyes in and recognise some of the more familiar native plants.


For the more difficult plants we work though the keys in the field guide to aid identification. Plants such as the duckweeds at first glance can look the same, but closer examination reveals minute detail and we must decide if it is least duckweed, common duckweed or even ivy-leaved duckweed."


Nicky’s volunteering year will continue next month.




Since the beginning of the month great bunches of mistletoe (Viscum album) have been on sale in green grocers throughout the country and here - close to the Museum in South Kensington - is no exception.


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James McKay presents one of his mistletoe bunches from his shop in South Kensington


In common with many others, I’ve always been fascinated by this curious plant and was pleased to find it growing on lime trees across the fields from where I once lived in Kent. Until then I had only seen mistletoe growing in northern France - again, probably on lime trees.

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Mistletoe (the 'globes' of green among the branches) growing on Lime. Image: Jonathan Briggs

Mistletoe is an evergreen, semi-parasitic plant absorbing water and nutrients from host trees. It is spread by several bird species, including of course the mistle thrush.  Mistle thrushes swallow the whole berry and the sticky seeds pass through their gut. The excreted seeds, retaining their stickiness, fall and often stick to branches of the host tree where the seeds may germinate.


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Creative Commons licence BY-NC-SA 2.0


Blackcaps are also rather partial to mistletoe but first separate the seed from the white flesh, leaving the viscous seed on the host branch, before eating the fruit. Mistletoe has a particular affinity for apple, lime, hawthorn and

poplar in relatively open habitats, such as in orchards, parks and gardens.


black-cap-edwyn-anderton-creative-commons-by-nc-sa-2.jpgMale blackcap. Image: Edwyn Anderton/Flickr

Creative Commons licence BY-NC-SA 2.0


Apart from the local green grocer, there is no nearby source of these white berries for birds to spread. My own attempts at propagating mistletoe seeds on our apple trees in the Wildlife Garden failed - so when Jonathan Briggs of Mistletoe Matters offered to introduce mistletoe to some of our trees, we welcomed the suggestion.


Jonathan planted seeds on branches of two apple trees, an old ornamental hawthorn and willow in April 2009. The seeds successfully germinated on several trees and managed to survive on the apple and willow.


Jonathan Briggs explains his reasons for introducing mistletoe to the garden:


“The mistletoe planting in the Museum’s Wildlife garden was part of a programme of mistletoe plantings in selected London locations linked to the original Greater London Biodiversity Action Plan. Mistletoe was included in that on the basis of its rarity (in the London area), ease of monitoring and cultural significance. 


“Other planting sites included Kew, Chelsea Physic Garden, Buckingham Palace Garden and Down House (Darwin's place - he admired mistletoe's adaptations). Key existing populations in the London area are largely around Hampton Court where it has been recorded for over 200 years on the famous limes, and in the opposite corner of London in Enfield where there is much in the Middleton House/Forty Hall area.


“Since the London project there has been increasing evidence that mistletoe may be becoming more common anyway in eastern counties - perhaps due to climate change, perhaps due to increased spread from more over-wintering blackcaps or perhaps a combination of both. Spread from tree to tree is increasing around Hampton Court and in Essex.


“At the same time, over in the SW Midlands which are better suited to mistletoe climatically, there is continuing loss, in biomass terms, of mistletoe in old apple orchards - which are in decline. These orchards are one of its favourite habitats, so the loss of the orchards inevitably leads to less mistletoe. It does not, however, mean mistletoe is threatened - it is still thriving in other habitats, so it is only quantity that is reducing.


“Actually, in some orchards, mistletoe quantity is increasing, as the trees have become unmanaged and the mistletoe allowed to overgrow them. This is only temporary however as the trees involved are mostly old, and the overgrowth of mistletoe will accelerate their death - so this 'glut' in some orchards will be gone in a few years. A survey, the 'Mistletoe League' is collecting information on attitudes to mistletoe management in fruit trees (in both orchards and gardens) - do take part if you have mistletoe on fruit trees, all information is useful.


“If you want to try growing your own there are detailed instructions on the Mistletoe Pages website. Mistletoe is a parasite and will affect the branch it is growing on - but it won't harm the whole tree unless allowed to take over. Some pruning every winter will prevent that happening!”


... it will be sometime before our delicate mistletoe threatens its host trees:


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A healthy young plant on apple (Malus domestica) ‘Brownlees Russet’ in the Museum’s Wildlife Garden. Image: Jonathan Jackson


These fresh green and healthy-looking plants appear new and shiny on the otherwise bare and wintry branches and perhaps this is why mistletoe was thought to symbolise new life at the winter solstice - just one of many beliefs associated with this enigmatic plant.


While this recent cold spell has brought additional visitors to feed on our cones, berries and bird feeders, Larissa tells us about life below the bird feeders:


“Starting working in the wildlife garden just two months ago, I was amazed at the diversity of life within the garden. One particular creature caught my attention - the mice that scurry around under the bird feeders (and occasionally past your feet!).

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One of the house mice searches for seeds spilt by the birds underneath the feeder


In previous years, both the house mouse (Mus musculus) and the wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) have been recorded within the garden. It was time for another small mammal survey and I was pleased to have joined in time to be able to take part.


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The wood mouse differs from the house mouse with larger ears and eyes, golden fur and a more defined white underbelly

With help from the volunteers, longworth traps (pictured below) were used to catch small mammals present in the garden. For just over two weeks, each evening the traps were set with enough bedding and supplies for any curious creature to enjoy a 5 star stay before checking them the following morning.


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The longworth trap is the most commonly used humane trap when surveying small mammals


Over the two weeks, a total of 39 Mus musculus were trapped along with 4 toads (Bufo bufo) and a variety of slugs! To our surprise, we even found three little mice all snuggled up together in one trap. The most successful traps were those set nearer the sheds, or by the bird feeders where mice are often observed scavenging seeds the birds clumsily drop (see the video below). Unfortunately no wood mice were trapped, but we haven’t given up hope and will resume trapping again when the weather gets a little warmer”.




Watch our house mice in action under the bird feeder!


As the woodland habitats in the Wildlife Garden mature, the pageant of autumn colour seems to increase in intensity each year. Museum photographer, Jonathan Jackson (who needs little encouragement to escape the studio and work with living natural history), spent some time in the garden 2 weeks ago shooting many beautiful images, including most of the photos below. And Larissa Cooper, who joined us nearly 3 months ago, adds some of her own and describes her first autumn in the Wildlife Garden:


"As the autumnal chill creeps up on us, the many different (mostly native) trees we have in the garden begin to show off their colours before being cast away now their job has been done.

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The colours of the garden vary as the leaves begin to fall. The first tree to drop its leaves was the common lime (Tilia x europea).

It’s a beautiful but busy time for us in the garden. Leaves are broken down on the woodland floor by decomposers such as fungi and detritivores like millipedes and earthworms. However the non-native London plane trees (Plantanus x hispanica) cover the garden with large leathery leaves which are a bit too much for our native flora, such as bluebells, to push through.


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Fungi growing from decaying wood sits in front of a fallen plane tree leaf (Photo: L.Cooper)



3 (Custom).jpgLondon plane tree leaves lie with rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)

Enter the wildlife gardeners, volunteers and occasionally other staff with our rakes and trusty shredder, giving nature a little helping hand to break down the leaves. Looking out for frogs and toads hiding from the cold we gently rake and remove the plane tree leaves. being careful not to damage any seedlings and delicate plants. By December we will have raked and shredded tonnes of leaves, and scattered the shreddings back onto the woodland floor to allow a buildup of decomposed leaves.



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But raking leaves aside; it gives us a chance to see the beauty of the changing colours around us. The beech (Fagus sylvatica) trees turn amber while the poplar leaves change to a vibrant yellow.


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Beech trees behind the meadow show off their varying colours


The plants around the pond die back diverting the attention to the golden reeds which complement the colours of the early autumnal evenings.


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Common reeds (Phragmites australis) turn a golden brown


While the holly holds its colour, with dashes of red from the berries, the spindle tree (Euonymus europaeus) displays an almost tropical array of fuchsia-coloured berries.


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Spindle berries add a touch of pink to the usual reds, yellows and browns of autumn



It is all such a treat so see on a daily basis!"

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The main pond is surrounded by autumnal colours



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The bright yellows of the hornbeam are reminiscent of summer glowing on a clear chilly autumnal afternoon


Thank you to Larissa and Jonathan for the blog and photos.


One of our first tasks of autumn is spent around the ponds thinning out reeds from the pond margins, removing decaying vegetation and covering the top pond with netting to keep it free of plane tree leaves. Of course, some less invasive pond management takes place throughout the year...


Here in July, Nadia enjoyed cooling off in the coracle whilst pruning willow on the floating moorhen island. The island was at risk of blowing over - the thick growth of willow acting as a sail:


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This summer we had a build up of least duck weed (Lemna minuta) that threatened to block out light to the submerged aquatic plants in one of the ponds.


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Veolia Environmental Services’ volunteers take a break from skimming duck weed off the top pond to reduce its cover



Common reed (Phragmites australis) is a beautiful plant in all seasons but given half a chance it’ll romp away across the pond reducing the area of open water and shading out less robust marginal pond plants such as marsh marigold (Caltha palustris), water mint (Mentha aquatica) and ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi).


A little surreptitious reed weeding happens in summer...


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Sophia has just dropped her secateurs...



...but in October we get into more serious reed-pulling along with thinning of other tall marginals such as great willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum) and hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum).


Most insect larvae will have hatched and left the pond but there is still plenty of life in the ponds and in the mud and so plant thinning is confined to one short section of the pond to minimise disturbance.


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The moorhens kept away but they surprised a few frogs:


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Common frog (Rana temporaria)


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Nicky and Sean's work complete!


Finally, the least popular autumn pond task is covering the top pond with netting to protect it from the falling plane tree leaves. The net is placed over a pyramidal structure in the centre of the pond.


Alex and I drew the short straws and had to wade into the water on one of the coldest days so far this month, but unfortunately (for him) Alex got the really short straw - leaky waders! The longest straw went to Sophia, who got to stand on the dry bank to take these photographs.


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Struggling to place the 'pyramid' into the centre of the pond


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Pegging down the net to hold it in place to catch the falling leaves


The ‘pyramid’ was designed and constructed by the Saturday volunteer team 3 years ago using coppiced alder, cherry and hazel, and is now a little fragile.


More about leaves to follow next week but i,n the meantime, something that happened back in October:


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Tommy, Nadia and Alex collecting the Brighter Kensington and Chelsea Scheme’s Wildlife Garden Award from the Mayor in Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall


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Damian, Rama and Pam collecting the President’s Trophy for the best overall prize winner in the Brighter Kensington and Chelsea Scheme this year

Thank you to ALL our volunteers for helping us to win these awards!


Several unusual, and many common sightings, are logged during the course of a day’s weeding, plant recording or simply sipping coffee near the bird feeding area…

The garden’s first sighting of the Jersey tiger moth was spotted 4 years ago as we were recording plants around the pond margins and has been spotted most years since - and this year in the moth light trap. Here is an image taken last year by volunteer Jo Manning.


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Jersey tiger moth nectaring on wild angelica (taken by Jo Manning)


One morning recently a green woodpecker announced its presence in the meadow with its familiar laugh [n.b. this is a direct link to a .mp3 file at I've also attached another call to the bottom of the post].


It was in the vicinity of an ant hill – they’re rather partial to ants. This was my second sighting ever of a green woodpecker in the Wildlife Garden.


A week later, Daniel spotted a great spotted woodpecker on the peanut feeder. It stayed long enough for him to grab the camera and take a shot – not easy as the woodpecker was behind the feeder – but here’s an image he wished he’d shot – (taken by Martin Tipping)


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Great spotted woodpecker Dendrocopus major
© David Tippling Photo Library / The Natural History Museum, London


Since then this colourful bird has made regular trips to our peanut feeder - usually during lunch time - like today! 


Below the bird feeder, pigeons and squirrels squabble over fallen seeds whilst mice dart from their log piles to snatch seeds and peanut droppings.


One of my favourite times in the Wildlife Garden is after sunset – sitting near the pond, bat detector in hand….waiting patiently for a pipistrelle.


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A late-evening moment with a pipistrelle


No, this wasn’t the actual bat I recorded, but is one of many images from the Bat Conservation Trust.


Working over-time takes on a new meaning in the presence of pipistrelle bats feeding over our ponds during warm summer evenings....


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. 

laid hedge.jpg

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.



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