24 February 2015,
Our trip to collect shovelhead worms (a type of marine bristleworm called a magelonid) at Berwick-upon-Tweed started last Thursday (19th) at 06.30, giving us plenty of time on the shore before low tide. We were extremely lucky with the weather, as although it was only 7 degrees, the sun was out and it wasn’t raining. Staff at the museum specialize in this fascinating group and this particular trip was aimed at collecting animals to further our understanding of the biology of the group but also to gain specimens for the Museum’s natural history collections. Magelonids are extremely abundant on this shore and material used in the description of the British species, Magelona johnstoni was collected here by Head of Invertebrate Biodiversity Andy Mackie, who was one of the team who described the species back in 2000. The species was given its name in honour of the work carried out by the naturalist Dr George Johnston in this region.
Although, abundant on this shore, finding and collecting animals which are less than 1 mm in width can be tricky! These animals are rather long and fragile and a great deal of care has to be taken when collecting them. Animals are gently removed from the sand using a water bottle and soft forceps and placed into a cool box to keep them cool on the journey home. Once back to our makeshift laboratory I was able to identify and observe them for our research. We have designed a specialist tank in order to observe them over longer periods of time as well. We have successfully kept animals in this tank for nearly two years. We are hoping to observe the difference between three species, which can be found on this shore, Magelona johnstoni, Magelona mirabilis and Magelona filiformis. A fourth species is known to occur in low numbers on this shore, however, we were unable to locate any specimens for study this time.
We spent four days on the shore at Berwick-upon-Tweed collecting animals and although the weather did turn and temperatures on the beach dipped significantly it is a lovely shore to collect on. The tank and the animals have now made the long trip back to Cardiff and are now in the marine laboratory at National Museum Cardiff. We will continue to observe and publish research on these fascinating and also beautiful creatures (although may be I am somewhat biased, I shall leave it up to you whether you agree or not!).
Watch this video, to see how we sample shovelhead worms.
23 February 2015,
A Year at St Fagans Gardens.
Ever wondered what gardener’s do at winter?
Hello and sut mae. This is my first blog entry and it’s my story about being a trainee gardener and Welsh learner at St Fagans Museum over the course of 14 months. I’d better start by telling you a bit about myself. I arrived on the Heritage Horticulture Skills Scheme (HHSS) last September and I’ll be blogging about what I get up to until I finish the course in November.
Before I became involved in the scheme I was a self-employed ‘maintenance’ gardener for several years in Cardiff. My technical knowledge was limited and I was really looking to learn new skills through practical experience. I also wanted to expand my knowledge of plants and horticulture techniques. In the past I’d tried doing this through books and YouTube videos, but I soon realised that what I really needed was some kind of gardening guru to guide me. When I heard about the HHSS scheme I got very excited and knew it would be perfect for me as it was an opportunity to learn a huge amount in a practical hands-on way, with guidance from experts in the field.
So, here we are in mid-Feb and I can’t believe I’ve been on the scheme for just over 5 months already. It’s been incredibly busy and I haven’t had much time to stop and think. The months have flown by. In this post I’ll be talking about what I and the other trainees have been doing over winter. Lots of people think that winter is a quiet time without much going on in the garden. A time to tidy up the shed, clean your tools, and think about your summer planting scheme. Don’t believe that for a second. Trust me, there’s plenty to do!
During the winter months the daylight hours are shorter and weather conditions can be harsh at times, but in a place like St Fagans the gardens are so varied there’s always a job that you can get on with. There are lots of plants that benefit from pruning at this time of year including fruit trees and bushes, late flowering shrubs, roses and some climbers. In the past few weeks we’ve tackled a few of these, and used different techniques to suit the individual needs of the plants.
Why prune at this time of year?
In winter, deciduous plants shed their leaves and that makes it much easier to see its general structure. There is also less chance of transmitting diseases from one plant to another or attracting insects to fresh pruning wounds. Sap producing plants will bleed heavily if you prune when the sap is rising. Many of these are dormant over winter and bleeding is not so much of a problem if you prune at this time of year. As you may have already gathered, this post is going to focus on winter pruning techniques.
The first thing to remember when pruning any plant is the 4 D’s. Always remove Dead, Diseased and Damaged or Displaced material, in that order!
There are 4 main types of pruning.
· Formative pruning encourages growth and builds the basic framework in a young plant.
· Maintenance pruning improves the look of the plant as well as increasing the amount of fruit or flowers.
· Regenerative pruning – If you have a plant that’s been left to itself and grown out of control for a few years, there’s no need to panic. Certain plants can be restored. This type of pruning can help you manage the growth, size and the overall look. It’s often an intimidating prospect. But, if you have an idea about what you’re doing and you feel brave, it can give your old plants a new lease of life. And save you throwing them out, when all they need is a good prune.
· Specialised pruning creates and maintains an attractive look. If you’ve always wanted a hedge in the shape of an elephant, then Topiary is a form of specialised pruning that might be right up your street.
Now that you know the basic rules, I’ll talk a little bit more in depth about what we’ve been doing recently.
Pollarding Lime (Tilia) trees
It’s best to Pollard Lime trees annually in late winter or early spring if you want to restrict height. Prune the new shoots back to a bud, 1-2cm from the pollarded head. This will also stimulate new shoot production for the following spring.
Wisteria can grow 10-12ft in a season, it’s a beast, and benefits from pruning twice annually in summer and winter. At this time of year we prune the lateral growth back to 2 or 3 buds on each spur shoot. These spurs will bear the following season’s majestic display of flowers.
Standard Apple Trees
Apple trees are pruned to manage fruit buds and the shoots they grow on. Not, as many people think, to control the size of the tree. Start by concentrating on one main branch at a time. Find the leader and work your way down to the main trunk. Cut the leader by a third, leaving a bud facing the direction you want the new growth to follow. Prune back any laterals to 2-3 buds. Thin out large groups of spurs because too many will produce small fruits and it’s much better to have less quantity, but bigger and better quality.
Hard Pruning Yew (Taxus baccata) Hedges
We decided to prune back hard the Yew hedges down by the ponds because they had grown too wide, and in places the height was obscuring the pretty spectacular view. Yew responds well to renovation pruning, but it’s best carried out staggered over a few years. This year we concentrated on one side and the top. We used string lines tied to bamboo canes to mark out a straight cutting guide. We cut back hard using loppers and secateurs to reduce the height and width, and to re-shape where needed. After hard pruning it’s always good idea to apply feed and mulch at the base to give the plant a bit of extra nutrition and TLC while it recovers.
A few of the other HHSS trainees from other gardens on the scheme joined us just last week for a Rose pruning workshop led by St Fagans gardener Julie. Our task was to give the Roses a light annual prune. Different Roses respond better to different styles of pruning. We were each given a specific Rose bed, a map, and a list of the Roses with their pruning preferences. I was working with ‘Gruss an Teplitz’, which are a beautiful and fragrant old Hybrid Tea which prefer to be pruned thin. The first move was to remove any dead, diseased and damaged or displaced material. The 4 D’s! Next I thinned out the centre to produce a well-balanced open shape, and removed any crossing stems to stop them from rubbing against and damaging each other. I removed some of the very old, less productive wood to encourage new growth from the base. Always remember to prune to just above an outward facing bud, and make sure the cut slopes away from this to shed water.
4 February 2015,
Hello Bulb Buddies,
I would like to share a humorous rhyme from R at Thorn Primary School: "If I was a dog and you were a flower I’d lift my leg and give you a shower!"
Thorn Primary School: What happens to the plants after they have flowered? Do they die? Prof P: Hi Thorn Primary School. This is a very important question. Your bulbs won’t die after they have flowered! The leaves of your plant make food and the roots absorb water. When your flower dies the bulb stores all remaining food and water inside itself ready for next Autumn. Your teacher has information on how to care for your bulbs after your flowers die, and I will blog about it closer to the time. But this won’t happen until the end of Spring – so enjoy your flowers while they are here!
Skelmorlie Primary School: This week we have had a lot of snow and sleet in our weather. It has been really cold so we have had to look out for ice when we are playing too. In our water gauge this week, there was around 13 mm of water and 37 mm of ice/snow. Prof P: Hi Skelmorlie Primary School. I’m glad to hear you are being careful when you are outside, the weather can cause dangerous conditions! I’m assuming you melted the 37mm of snow to 13mm of water. Was there less water than you thought there would be? This is because water expands when it freezes and evaporates when it heats! I’d like to thank you for all the weekly comments you have sent me – you are definitely Super Scientists!
St. Ignatius Primary School: Professor Plant we missed some recordings this week due to the bad weather here. Our teacher decided it was not safe enough for us to go out and collect the recordings. Today we had a big piece of ice in our rainfall gauge so if that melted our rainfall would be more. The raifall gauge was also this full as it includes the 3 days we didn't take recordings. St. Ignatius Primary 4. Prof P: Hello St Ignatius Primary 4. Not to worry about missing some recordings due to bad weather – if it’s icy it’s better to stay warm and safe! As for the block of ice, you are not the only school to have had this problem. If this happens again please take your rain gauge inside and wait for the ice to melt. Then record the water level as rain fall on your weather chart!
Morningside Primary School: We brought our rain gauge in on Monday as it was full of snow and let it melt before we took the measurement. Prof P: Well done Morningside Primary School, you really are Super Scientists! I hope you enjoyed the experiment. I always try to guess how much water there will be when the ice melts! Other schools have had the chance to do this experiment too, including Corshill Primary School.
Chryston Primary School: We are terribly sorry that we could not finish our records last week. We have been very busy with our Scottish afternoon and the weather here has been horrible. Hopefully we will finish our records next week. Prof P: Not to worry Chryston Primary School. Scottish afternoon sounds exciting! I hope you had a good week!
Thorn Primary School: We had lots of snow this week as well as lots of ice! We have no recording for Thursday as our school was closed due to the ice making it unsafe for staff and children to arrive. Prof P: Not to worry Thorn Primary School, other schools were unable to complete their records due to bad weather too! And lots of schools have reported snow, including: Woodlands Primary School, St. Brigid's School, Ysgol Hiraddug, Abbey Primary School, Manor Road Primary School, Rivington Foundation Primary School, Bickerstaffe CE Primary School and Balshaw Lane Community Primary School.
Our Lady of Peace Primary School: It has been very windy,snowy and icy. Two girls fell today at playtime and lunchtime on the ice and hurt themselves. It snowed last Tuesday and Wednesday. The two girl that fell are the girls that wrote this. Prof P: Hello, I’m sorry to hear you fell on the ice! I hope you weren’t badly hurt! I hope children at other schools take note and that everyone is extra careful when outdoors in this weather!
Ysgol Y Plas: Dear professor plant I thought you would like to know that nineteen bulbs in the flower bed have been growing and sixteen in the pots have started as well. From C. Prof P: Hi C, that’s great news! Other schools have reported new shoots too, including Skelmorlie Primary School!
Tongwynlais Primary School: We have no rain records for monday and tuesday as a few of our fellow pupils have been playing with our rain gage. We hope we can collect more accurate measurements next week. Prof P: Thank you for letting me know TongwynlaisPrimary School. Other schools have been having problems with their rain gauges too. Including Euxton Church of England Primary School whose rain gauge has been repeatedly knocked over by football players! They have found a new location for their rain gauge now.
Darran Park Primary: I have got a new friend doing this job now - he enjoys doing it !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Prof P: Haha, well I’m guessing that not everyone at Darran Park Primary is enjoying this project! I hope your new friend can show you how much fun science can be and that you come to enjoy the project as much as he does!
The Blessed Sacrament Catholic Primary School: It has been really icy in the mornings but the daffodil shoots are getting taller. F. Prof P: Good to know F. You must be looking after them very well!
Bancyfelin: 1 mm of snow fell on Thursday 29th of January. This means that 4mm of rain + 1mm of snow fell on this day. Prof P: Well done Bancyfelin. I assume you measured the snow using snow sticks? I see you recorded 4mm of rain, so I assume the snow melted in your rain gauge!
Baird Memorial Primary School: We are surprised by the changes that occurred within the temperature side of things. The changes were dramatic. Prof P: Hi Baird Memorial Primary School. You are right, there is quite a jump in your temperature readings from -1°c on Thursday to 11°c on Friday! This shows how temperamental the weather can be. Drops in temperature are often caused by cold winds, clouds and precipitation (rain and snow).
Ysgol Nant Y Coed: We enjoyed doing we like doing it very much its so FUN!!!! This is are last time doing it :(wahhhhhhhh we wish we could do it again-S and A. Prof P: Hi S & A! I’m glad you are enjoying the project and I hope you have learnt a lot! There are other scientific experiments you can take part in. I’m guessing its someone else’s turn to take the temperature and rain fall readings for this project now. But you could easily do a similar experiment at home! The MET Office have a Weather Observation Website (WOW) where they ask people to document temperature reading from their area. This information then helps Meteorologists to build a clearer picture of weather patterns across the UK. You can take part here: http://wow.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/manual .
Ysgol Clocaenog: Heddiw, rydym wedi gweld bod ein cennin pedr yn dechrau tyfu. Mae cennin pedr K wedi tyfu 1.5cm. Mae rhai ohonynt dal heb ddechrau eto. Athro'r Ardd: Wel, rwy'n falch o glywed bod eich Cennin Pedr wedi cychwyn tyfu. Mae'n swnio fel bod bwlb K yn tyfu yn gyflym iawn! Daliwch ati gyda'r gwaith da Ysgol Clocaenog!
Keep up the good work Bulb Buddies!!
30 January 2015,
Here is the last in this series of blogs from the Falkland Islands, for now. An account of the trip by husband Brendan:
A non-biologist’s perspective on fieldwork and worm hunting
I remember having a conversation with my careers advisor when I was 16 about my A-Level choices, at the time I was really interested in Sharks and wanted to be a Marine Biologist. My ‘careers advisor’ then cheerfully informed me that to achieve this goal I would need to continue my Chemistry studies, at which point my heart sank and my visions of playing with Great Whites became distant fantasies.
My interest in the underwater world never really left me but I also never really got to understand what being a Marine Biologist would actually entail. This trip in many ways has been an eye opener as it has provided me with an insight into what it is actually like to pursue Marine Biology and the level of dedication required.
My first lesson in advanced rock pooling began at a place called Rincon Grande in the north of the Falkland Islands. The excitement I felt as I started picking my way through the pools and looking under rocks and actually being more successful than Teresa in finding a range of worms, including my first scale worm quickly led to stoic perseverance as I then went on to find a succession of ragworms for what felt like hours. There was at least one stage when I wished we were looking for starfish as these seemed to be everywhere but were apparently not of interest.
One of the key things that Teresa was trying to do was identify the diversity of worms in any location and that meant trying to find as much as possible and ideally a sample of more than one of each. In many of the locations we went to, this meant spending 2 or 3 hours persistently combing the rocks and digging through what sediment there was to try and find as much as possible in the short window the tides provided us with (photo 1). This tried both of our patience on several occasions as travel in the Falklands over what is considered roads, which we would consider simply a pot holed gravel drive, means that you arrive feeling battered and bruised before you then spend a couple of hours crouched on a beach in weather that seemed to vary from one extreme to another hunting an, at times, elusive prey.
Whilst collecting on a beach where you can stand on something solid whilst holding a piece of rock in one hand and using the forceps in your other hand to pick off a worm that might be only a few millimeters long is challenging. Trying to do this underwater, whilst you have one hand on the rock to try and steady yourself against the rolling ground swell that is trying to alternately tangle you in the kelp or pound you against the rock that you are trying to prize a sample off with the dive knife that you are holding in your other hand is a different matter altogether (photos 2 & 3)! The really challenging thing was that after you had managed to prize the sample off the rock you need to get it into a plastic sample bag (ziplock freezer bag) without losing everything – apparently I failed in this respect. Whilst I can’t hide the fact that the trowel and the all important brass snap lock (yes she has mentioned it more than once) did get left behind my argument is still that the sample was more important and that was recovered! I also never realised just how difficult it could be to open, put something into and then reseal a zip lock bag whilst wearing neoprene gloves that are 5mm thick!
Whilst the beach sampling and the diving both presented challenges the rewards do come when you get to view your catch down the microscope. What on the beach looks like a small orange blob is transformed into an elegant looking worm with a flowing mane of orange hair (a cirratulid – photo 4). If you’re really lucky you get rewarded with a scale worm, resplendent in its glistening armour (photo 5), if you’re unlucky, well it’s just another ragworm…..
All in all whilst ‘rock pooling for adults’ may not be entirely accurate, I have to admire the persistence and knowledge required to do what I dreamed of doing as a young man in Leeds.
29 January 2015,
For the last 2 days, we have been out on Sea Lion Island, the southern-most outpost of all of the islands. Once again, we ended up on a flight that landed over an hour after low tide, even though the tide was at 4pm! This was very frustrating but we were straight out as soon as we could, and down on the nearest patch of shoreline to see what we could do. My trusty trowel had been replaced with a coal shovel, the best I could manage at short notice but it would have to do. Although the shore was the kind I knew would be poor for worms (favoured by penguins) we had a go. No luck. At the end of the bay were some rock ledges with a few rock pools with some sand and algae not yet being affected by the rising tide. We suddenly started finding a (very) few worms under the sand in the pools and then I also noticed some small casts as well (see photo 1). This spurred us on to keep looking and at least come away with something (photo 2). We eventually ended up with a small pot that turned out to be slightly more diverse than expected with at least four different species represented (not bad for a fairly bare rock pool and only just over a dozen animals). The most common animal in the pot was an animal known as Boccardia, which is very hardy and often found in the higher shore environments here (photo 3).
The following day dawned windy and wet and the tide was not until nearly 5pm. This gave us plenty of time to peruse the island, see the sights and check out the coastline as the island is only around 5 miles long. I had been here before a few years ago and had already sampled some of the rocky shores on the south side so was more interested in trying to get something from the northern coasts. Shortly after we set off the rain started, although not too heavily. On one of the first shores we visited we found a male sea lion (photo 4), fast asleep. A fantastic sight and one I had not seen before so that improved our mildly damp spirits. By lunchtime, the rain had become persistent and not so light anymore. Our waterproofs were holding out but both pairs of feet were increasingly squelchy. As we turned to follow the north coast back up the island, we found ourselves heading into the wind. Suddenly life felt a little unfair. Most of the shores we had seen were either inaccessible below vertical cliffs, clean boulders in equally clean mobile sand with no life beneath or solid rock ledges, scoured clean by sea and weather. We eventually fought our way back to the bay we had started at the night before, but this time a couple of hours before low tide to find it being pounded by waves. We dug a few holes but there was nothing apparent. After a brief sit down to stare vacantly at the shore while being eyed up by an obviously nesting pair of caracaras who just as obviously didn’t want us there, we decided to head directly across the island to the opposite, sheltered shore and try there instead. We then walked the length of the shore, digging small holes every so often like itinerant squirrels, as the tide slowly ebbed out. Still nothing. We crossed back to the other shore and walked the length of that too, just to say we tried. Salvation came in the form of washed up kelp bladders that were encrusted with the small coiled tubes of spirorbid worms that were still alive (photo 5). We finally allowed ourselves to retire to the lodge, peel off our boots and wring out our socks.
Today was even windier and I have to admit the will and strength to fight my way through it had gone. Our flight back after lunch was short with an even shorter take-off and landing thanks to the wind. Tomorrow I have to pack all of my samples up and make sure they are ready for sending home before doing the same for myself.
Brendan is tasked with the job of finishing off the blog for you, giving a non-biologist’s view of fieldwork and worms and the delights of getting involved with both for the first time. Then it’s an early start on Friday before the long haul home.
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