Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales

Home

Seaweeds in Northumberland

Katherine Slade, 5 March 2015

On 19th February, I joined science curator Kate Mortimer-Jones to study marine life on the shores around Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland, not far from the border with Scotland. While Kate hunted for magalonid marine bristleworms, I looked at seaweeds. Much of England’s east coast is not particularly suitable for seaweeds; however, the rocky shores around Northumberland form plenty of ideal habitats.

It was early in the year, so I wasn’t expecting to see the seaweeds that die down for the winter (similar to annual and perennial flowering plants). I was also expecting a lower diversity here when compared with Welsh shores due to the colder climate. Species with south-western distributions that prefer a relatively warmer climate, such as Brown Tuning Fork Weed (Bifurcaria bifurcata), relatively common in Wales, do not grow as far north and east as Northumberland. With climate change, however, there is always the possibility that these southern species may expand their range further north. This is more likely for non-native species that are in the process of establishing in the UK, so I was on the look-out.

There are some seaweeds that only grow in the north of the UK, such as the Northern Tooth Weed (Odonthalia dentata) which is absent from Wales. I wanted to become familiar with these in the field rather than just seeing them as pressed specimens in our collections. It’s always exciting to find a species for the first time in the wild too.

Despite the time of year and the north-eastern location, the very sheltered shore was an excellent one for seaweeds and I documented a wide range of species. While it was important to collect specimens as a permanent back-up for records and for future research, I had to remind myself not to collect too many as they take a long time to process and I didn’t want to be up until the ‘wee hours’.

Preservation of the seaweeds involves several techniques depending on future use. To preserve the seaweed’s DNA for molecular analysis, the seaweed needs to be dried as quickly as possible in a bag with silica gel. Combining DNA characters with morphological ones (such as shape and colour) is sometimes the only way to be sure of an identification. To preserve 3D structure and some microscopic details well, a sample is placed in a tube with formaldehyde for fixation. Finally, the traditional and still most effective method for overall preservation is to press and dry the specimen, unfortunately this is the most time consuming process. You float each seaweed out onto paper, place nappy liners on top (a crucial part to stop the seaweed sticking to the paper above it), then place a piece of blotting paper underneath and on top and put it into a plant press. At least once a day, I swapped the wet blotting paper for dry and made sure the wet paper dried out quickly enough to be used in the next cycle. A lengthy procedure, but worth it for excellently preserved specimens that will be invaluable for future research.

I had access to a microscope with a camera attached and so was able to take close-up images of the seaweeds while they were fresh. These will be useful when looking at dried specimens back in the museum. Characters such as colour and 3D structure can be altered in the drying process, but will show up well in these photos. I also took lots of photos with a waterproof camera (it is too terrifying to take a non-waterproof camera onto the shore!) and I will share some more of these in my next blog.

Collecting Laver (Porphyra species), making sure the holdfast is collected for identification purposes

Some of the seaweeds recorded and collected from the lower shore

Reproductive features of Winged Weed (Membranoptera alata) recorded down the microscope

A pressed specimen of Stalked Leaf Bearer (Phyllophora pseudoceranoides)

Museums and Dust

Christian Baars, 4 March 2015

Dust, dust, dust, where ever you look! Museums are dusty places - dust is on top of shelves and underneath cupboards, it covers objects, books, specimens... Keeping our heritage in tip-top condition is a constant battle against dust.

What is dust? Dust in the atmosphere is made up of lots of tiny particles of soil, pollen, pollution, volcanic eruptions etc. Inside buildings, such as museums and your own office or home, dust is mainly bits of human (and pet) hair and skin, textile and paper fibres.

Why is dust a problem? Fresh dust, in small amounts, is not a problem other than making objects look unsightly. Over time, however, dust has a tendency to become really sticky. How often do you clean the tops of your kitchen cupboards? Only when you move houses, like most people? Then you'll know how difficult it is to remove the dust.

In addition, dust it hygroscopic - it absorbs moisture from the air. And because dust is really nutritious - just think of all those yummy skin cells - once it gets damp it is the PERFECT substrate for mould. Mould is really bad. Mould is responsible for damage to an awful lot of museum objects across the world.

Dust also attracts pest insects. They hide in dust, sometimes live of it – or the mould that grows on dust – and generally thrive in environments that are dusty, messy and neglected. There are some insects that cause a lot of damage to museum collections.

So we keep dust at bay in the museum because we want to maintain your heritage in as good a condition as possible. We are fortunate to have the support of some brilliant volunteers to help us keep the collections clean. Rachel, Vicky, Meredith and Elizabete - all students at Cardiff University's Department of Archaeology and Conservation - have just helped us clean one of the Library stores and one of the Art stores. Thank you to the volunteers for their help keeping dust, mould and insects under control in the museum.

Dust bunny.
Damage insect collection, caused by pest insects.
Volunteers Elizabete and Meredith helping with housekeeping in one of our Art stores.

lambing at Llwyn-yr-eos Farm

Gareth Beech, 3 March 2015

Lambing is one of the most important and busiest times of the year on the farm. It means long hours, day and night, watching over and caring for the sheep to ensure their lambs are delivered safely and that they survive the first couple of days. Lambs are a major source of income by being sold for meat, and provide replacement stock for flocks.

The keeping of sheep is such a significant part of farming in Wales because they are suited to the high altitude, damp climate and generally poor land. Sheep can survive and flourish on grass in both upland and lowland areas of Wales. The products from sheep have been wool, meat, milk, skins, and tallow for candles. Also, their manure has been used as fertilizer on the land. 

The first sheep brought to Wales were probably small, brown Soay sheep. They came with Neolithic farmers around 6 thousand years ago. The Romans brought with them superior, white-faced sheep whose wool was finer. The sheep were bred only for their wool, for which Roman farmers had a high reputation. These crossed with the Soay sheep, becoming the tan-faced ancestors of the hardy Welsh Mountain sheep, which have inhabited the highlands of Wales for over two thousand years.

By the Middle Ages sheep were most likely kept for their wool and milk rather than meat. Wool dominated until the Industrial Revolution, when the population started growing. This led to an increased demand for meat from the eighteenth century onwards.

Meat became the principal product from sheep and lambs, worth far more than wool in the twentieth century. Today producing fat lambs is the main income for many Welsh upland and hill farms. Exports of Welsh Lamb products were worth £154.7 million in 2013. France is the biggest overseas customer, followed by Germany. There were 9.74 million sheep and lambs in Wales in 2014.

Dafydd Jacob, shepherd from Ystradgynlais

A shepherd on horseback

Farmer on a quad bike

Curating Molluscs

Anna Holmes, 2 March 2015

Welcome to Umberto Fiordaliso, a postgraduate student from the University of Florence who will be working at the museum for 3 months with the Erasmus Programme, which helps students to study abroad. Umberto has previous experience working on Mediterranean molluscs and will be curating the marine molluscs collected by Monterosato, part of our extensive shell collection. He will be working closely with Anna Holmes and Harriet Wood in the Invertebrate Biodiversity section to produce a published handlist on this historical collection.

Umberto Fiordaliso

Daffodils for St David's Day

Penny Tomkins, 2 March 2015

Hello Bulb Buddies,

I hope you all had a fantastic St David’s Day yesterday!

St David’s Day (Dydd Gwyl Dewi) is a national holiday in Wales that celebrates St David (Dewi Sant), the patron Saint of Wales. This is a time when the history and traditions of Wales are celebrated. Traditional foods are prepared such as cawl/ lobscows and welshcakes, and traditional dress and Welsh emblems are worn. The Welsh emblems adorned on St David’s day include the leek (which is a symbol of St David) and the Daffodil. It is interesting that the Welsh word for Leek (Cennin) and Daffodil (Cennin Pedr) are very similar!

I thought it would be interesting for the schools in England and Scotland to see how important the Daffodil is in Wales. Did you celebrate St David’s Day? If not, are there other days that you do celebrate? You could let me know about these in the ‘comments’ section when you record this week’s weather data!

Have a look at the pictures attached!

Keep up the good work Bulb Buddies,

Professor Plant

Giant Daffodils at St Fagans National History Museum for St David's Day.

Flowers at Llanharan Primary School!

Daffodils and purple Crocus growing near National Museum Cardiff.

My plants!