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Wildlife Garden blog

4 Posts tagged with the sheep tag
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Last month we were fortunate to have two students from the Young Graduates for Museums and Galleries Programme (YGMG), Ayana Porteous-Simpson and Carrie Roberts, spend two weeks helping us in the Garden including the surveying and comparing two of our hedges. They learnt several things along the way as they explain below.

 

 

"After a whirlwind introduction on the 19 August, we began our two week internship at the Wildlife Garden. We were greeted not only by Larrissa, Caroline, Naomi and volunteers, but also by Bee, Bella and Honey, the resident sheep we helped look after for the following two weeks. Our efforts were concentrated mainly on hedgerows, and the comparison of which of the two made a better habitat for wildlife.

 

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'Good morning' from Honey the sheep.


Almost immediately after starting our internship here, it became clear that identifying plants would be an important and large part of our project. Our second hedge has many different kinds of plant species. Identifying them was no easy task, but with the help of Caroline we knew several woody plants by the end of the week. To help gain a picture of the background of hedgerows, Caroline enlisted the help of Roy Vickery who spoke to us about the history of English plants such as hawthorn and holly.

 

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Roy grasping the nettle.

 

One of our first afternoons at the Garden was spent with Museum lepidopterist, Alessandro Giusti, who sorted the moths from the light trap that we helped to set up the night before. Though initially apprehensive, we developed a new found appreciation of the moths, which we realised weren’t scary at all, but quite cute!

 

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Poplar hawk moth.

 

Our next challenge was the dreaded spider counting. Tom Thomas, a fellow of The British Naturalists Association, knowing much more about spiders than we did, took us sweep-netting around the garden in search of our eight-legged enemies.

 

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Searching for spiders with Tom Thomas ...

 

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... around the ponds ...

 

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... and in the yew hedge ...

 

After looking at them under a microscope we found, much in the same way as the moths, they were in fact far more interesting creatures than we expected.

 

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... and then close up!

 

To learn more about the kinds of fauna that live in the hedgerows, we used three different methods of animal catching. The first, (pitfall trapping), helped us look at some of the invertebrates that lived in the hedgerows. We had a hard time identifying them, but we learnt again just how the Wildlife Garden attracts all kinds of insects and other invertebrates.

 

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Identifying some of our findings from the pitfall traps.


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Sadly, our humane mammal traps did not present us with the same array of wildlife, and though we managed to catch a few mice, they escaped before we could examine them. Squirrels, attracted by the seed we lay out for the mice, seemed to work against us as they broke into the traps and stole the food.

 

Lastly, Duncan Sivell who works within the Museum’s Life Sciences department came to help us with sweep netting. Though most of what we found were flies (moth flies, hoverflies, mayflies and midges) and wasps, we also found spiders, and a southern oak bush cricket.

 

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Ayana tries to sweep net.


The two weeks we spent in the Wildlife Garden were both challenging and interesting. Though we knew we would be gardening, we had almost no idea how much we would learn on top of it. From watering plants to spending the day examining spiders under a microscope, we had a great time, and appreciate all the patience and work put in by Larissa, Caroline, Naomi and the volunteers to help us."

 

 

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"We will miss the sheep too."

 

And we also learnt some useful tips from Ayana and Carrie

Thank you and we miss you two already!

 

If you'd like to come and see the Garden and its hedgerows yourself, we'll be giving 'A Walk on the Wildside' tours between 16.30 and 21.30 as part of this Friday's free Science Uncovered event at the Museum.

 

If you can't make it on Friday, then don't miss our Hedgerow Harvest event and talks on the 6 October.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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

 

 

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

Caroline