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May 2012

Blind shrimps

Posted by Julian Carter on 29 May 2012

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Groundwater shrimp Niphargus aquilex

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The blind groundwater shrimp Crangonyx subterraneus.

Within the groundwater in the rocks below our feet is a hidden world where living animals can be found. It’s a secret world that is difficult to study, and frequently forgotten as it is out of sight. In the UK these groundwater dwelling animals tend to be made up of crustaceans (which includes familiar animals such as crabs and lobsters), and range from tiny microscopic copepods to ‘larger’ shrimp like animals.

Recent survey work by Lee Knight, a freshwater ecologist, and Gareth Farr, a groundwater specialist with the Environment Agency, has found some new species to the Welsh fauna. This has included the first records for the very small amphipod Microniphargus leruthi which has now been found in a number of sites around South Wales.

Recently I joined Gareth on some fieldwork around the Bridgend area to collect some voucher specimens for the museum collections. On this particular trip we found two species not represented in the collections (and shown in the pictures). Both of these are termed ‘stygobiont’ animals, which means they are permanent inhabitants of underground environments. As a result they are characteristically white and eyeless as an adaptation to life underground.

So why does it matter that we learn about such animals and their environment? Understanding biodiversity is always important. Our whole way of life is underpinned by the environment through the food we eat, the water we drink, to the resources we use. In the case of these groundwater animals if the groundwater they live in gets polluted, then this affects not only these animals but us through contaminated water supplies. Thus even these small blind beasties have an important role to play in the sustainability of our environment.

Fascination of Plants Day

Posted by Ciara Hand on 24 May 2012

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What do carnivorous plants eat?

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What does a plant cell look like?

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Exploring the parts of a plant.

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Exploring different types of plants

Pupils from Roath Park Primary and Pontyclun Primary had great fun exploring plants and plant science at the National Museum Cardiff to celebrate The Fascination of Plants day. 

They had a go at dissecting a plant, explored plants under the microscope, and found out about the work of plant scientists at the National Museum Cardiff and Cardiff University. They also learned how to survey for plants in the local park.

Plus, Flathom Island education team joined us with some real live slow worms, and the Marine Conservation Society helped pupils explore issues affecting local wildlife.

This event for schools was run by education staff and plant scientists from Cardiff University, the National Museum Wales and Eco-explore, and was part of an international celebration of plants around the world. We hope to run a similar event next year, where more schools will be able to participate. 

Thanks to all involved!


My Big Day Out - Billy the Seal

Posted by Peter Howlett on 23 May 2012

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Loaded in the van and ready for the journey down to Exmouth

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It was great to be near the sea again after so many years

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Having a chat with my co-star the Common Dolphin

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I'm ready for my close up now Mr Demille

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Well, I thought things had looked up when I was put on display in the Clore Discovery Gallery. After so many years of just seeing the inside of museum stores it was great to be able to see visitors again!

Then came news that the BBC were to film me for a piece in their series called Coast, and, even better they wanted to film me on Exmouth beach - a day out - wow! Easy for me to say but this meant quite a bit of work for my curator, Peter Howlett, who had to get me ready, strap me into the van and do all the driving.

Anyway the big day arrived and I was loaded into a van for the journey down. It was great to see the world outside of Cardiff again - the first time since I was brought in on that trawler back in 1912. It was fantastic to see the sea again, even if it did get a little close during filming.

I was filmed with the skeleton of a Common Dolphin (courtesy of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust), I don't know about you but I think I'm far more impressive. The idea was to show why us Grey Seals are quite happy bouncing around on dry land when a dolphin ends up dead if it gets stranded. To explain this I had the company of one of Coast's presenters, Miranda Krestovnikoff. It took a while to set everything up but eventually they were ready and I got ready for my close up with Miranda - I think she was quite taken with me! It was rather nice being fimed on the deserted beach in the early evening sun.

Sadly my day out was now over and I was put back into the van for the journey back to the Museum and the following morning I was back in my usual place surveying the visitors in the Clore Discovery gallery. Keep an eye open for my appearance, I should be in one of the programmes to be screened next spring/summer.


Travel Plan for St Fagans

Posted by Danielle Cowell on 23 May 2012

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This week is Wales Sustainability Week – a perfect time to launch St Fagans: National History Museum Travel Plan!

We are the first national museum in Wales to launch a Travel Plan, which is all about promoting sustainable travel for both visitors and staff.  This Travel Plan will ensure options for travelling by public transport, bicycle and walking are expanded and promoted. 

The public transport links to the Museum have greatly improved in recent years.  The local service bus from the city centre stops on-site directly outside the main visitor entrance.  Go to our Planning Your Visit section where you can use the Traveline Cymru journey planner tool to find out how you can visit us by public transport.

Our new shuttle bus service travels everyday between the main entrance of National Museum Cardiff and St Fagans.  It costs £3 return or £1.50 single.  Why not make a day of it and visit the two museums?  The shuttle bus timetable is on our website.

If you are feeling more energetic, the main cycle route to the Museum from Cardiff city centre is via the Ely Trail. The signposted section from Fairwater is traffic-free and follows a pleasant riverside route.  Sheltered, secure cycle parking is available for visitors outside the main entrance.  Lockers are available on request. 


Arctic Ocean exploration 12th May

Posted by Peter Howlett on 21 May 2012

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The view from our berth at Bodo; looking across the bay to the fish factory and the mountains beyond.

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Bodø marina

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Discussing Norwegian-Welsh collaboration with Dr Børge Holte aboard the RV G.O. Sars

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The check-in hall at Bodø airport

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And so to Bodø. Unfortunately the first half of the MAREANO spring 2012 research cruise is at an end.  We have arrived in Bodo, the largest city in Nordland county. The views from the bridge of the G.O. Sars reveal the port city  (pop. about 50,000) as fairly flat, surrounded by picturesque mountains.

At 10 o’clock, it is sunny and an exploratory walk to the marina and through the town is very pleasant; quite warm in the sun, but bitterly cold in the wind. A weekend marine festival is being set up around the marina and people are starting to arrive. Having got our bearings we return to the ship to say goodbye to many of our fellow scientists, who are catching a taxi to the airport. It is now 11 o’clock, the sky has darkened, and we have near horizontal snow! The sun reappears later, thankfully.

Scientists for the second two weeks of the sampling are beginning to arrive. For this leg, the ship will travel south from ‘Nordland VI’ to an area between Kristiansund and Halten. They will concentrate on video filming the marine habitats there and will not be deploying grabs, trawls or sledges. You can keep up-to-date at with the latest news of the project here.

After lunch we meet with Dr Børge Holte, head of the MAREANO programme, and cruise leader for the next leg. We discuss our work during the previous two weeks, and all agree that our participation with the Norwegian science team has been mutually beneficial. There was much in common between the MAREANO and our own series of scientific investigations of the seabed around Wales. You can find out more about the MAREANO project taxonomy here.

Throughout the first leg, we had been comparing and contrasting our similar, but differing, sampling techniques and sample processing procedures. We also had many discussions concerning the animals we find in the seabed habitats off our respective coasts. It was a pleasure to see some of the species we are familiar with (as well as others we rarely or never encounter) in the Arctic region from which they were first discovered.

The ship is set to sail at 3 p.m., so we say our farewells and go to our hotel for a brief rest before flying back to the UK on Sunday morning.

Apart from the port, the tourist appealing landscape and outdoor activities, Bodø is famous for hosting the National Norwegian Aviation Museum. This is situated beside the airport and both have strong links with the UK. The British built the first runway in 1940, when Germany invaded southern Norway. Then, during the Second World War, two Norwegian fighter squadrons flew Spitfires from England. Naturally, the Museum exhibits include the Spitfire alongside the numerous other military and civilian aircraft in its 10,000 m2 floorspace.

Once back in the UK we will post some photos of the animals we encountered during the trip. In the meantime, here are two photos of a small holothurian (sea-cucumber), Elpidia — affectionately referred to as a ‘sea-pig’ by all aboard the research ship. These interesting animals ‘graze’ the surface of the seabed.  This particular species grows to around 2 cm in length, but this specimen (from 1,300 m depth) is only about 4 or 5 mm long. The animal can be seen in situ in a photo from an earlier MAREANO research cruise here

Spring Bulb for Schools: Results 2005-2012

Posted by Danielle Cowell on 16 May 2012

The ‘Spring Bulbs for Schools’ project allows 1000s of schools scientists to work with Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales to investigate and understand climate change.

Since October 2005, school scientists have been keeping weather records and noting when their flowers open, as part of a long-term study looking at the effects of temperature on spring bulbs.

Certificates have now been sent out to all the 2,933 pupils that completed the project this year.

See Professor Plant's reports or download the spreadsheet to study the trends for yourself!

  • Make graphs & frequency charts or calculate the mean.
  • See if the flowers opened late in schools that recorded cold weather.
  • See how temperature, sunshine and rainfall affect the average flowering dates.
  • Look for trends between different locations.
Daffodil Drawing Competition 2012.
Congratulations to the following pupils who produced some excellent botanical drawings!

1st: Sana Patel - Fulwood & Cadley Primary

2nd: Markus - Stanford Primary - Age 9

3rd: Emilia Porter - Fulwood & Cadley Primary

Runner's up:

  • Marielle Matter - Westwood Primary - Age 9
  • Emlyn Piette - Westwood Primary - Age 10
  • Aleena Raza - Fulwood & Cadley Primary
  • Lucy Turner - Fulwood & Cadley Primary
  • Davina Vadhere - Fulwood & Cadley Primary
  • Bradley Cox - Stanford in the Vale Primary - Age 9
  • Abigail Boswell - Fulwood & Cadley Primary
  • Hasan Patel - Fulwood & Cadley Primary
  • Tom Betheridge - Fulwood & Cadley Primary
  • Mairelle Mattar - Westwood Primary - Age 9
  • Hasan Ali - Sherwood Primary
  • Charlie Smith - Ysgol Nant Y coed - Oed 9

Many Thanks

Professor Plant


Facebook Professor Plant


New bus & improved cycle track for St Fagans

Posted by Danielle Cowell on 16 May 2012

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New Bus Service

A new bus service will be running between National Museum Cardiff and St Fagans: National History Museum from 5 April until 30 September. 

Departure times from National Museum Cardiff:

10.15 / 11.15 / 12.15 / 1.15 / 14.45 / 15.45 / 16.45

Departure times from St Fagans: National History Museum:

10.45 / 11.45 / 12.45 / 14.15 / 15.15 / 16.15 / 17.15

Route from National Museum Cardiff via Cardiff Castle, Penhill Road (Halfway Pub) Llandaff Cathedral, Fairwater Green, St Fagans: National History Museum.

£1.50 single, £3.00 return starting from 5th April to 30th September 2012.

Details of bus services can be found on the Traveline Cymru website.

Improvements to the Ely Cycle Trail

The Ely cycle track that leads to St Fagans has been re - surfaced. This makes the route much more enjoyable. For more details on cycling in Cardiff visit:



Cardiff Creative Writers

Posted by Grace Todd on 14 May 2012

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Bronze age axe head

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Objects are evidence of somewhere, something, or somebody and as such all have stories to tell.

Recently a class of adults studying creative writing at Carduff University attended a workshop here with me in the Clore Discovery Centre. They took on the role of a curator and wrote their own creative labels for some of their favourite objects in the gallery. Here are a few examples:


Iron-Nickel Meteorite (Approximately 4.5 billion years old)

 I wandered lonely, in a cloud of fragments, beyond the Martian orbit, since the beginnings of the Solar System some four-and-a-half billions of years ago. A passing satellite, en-route from Earth to who knows where, disturbed my orbit, and I fell towards the distant sun. Later, I felt the pull of Earth, and spiralled down into its gravity well – faster and faster until in fiery glory I blazed across the sky, a meteorite. Though reduced in size, I fell to earth. A fragment of the ancient history of the Solar System – a messenger from outer space – here I lie in The National Museum Collection.

David Edwards


What is it? Popular wrong answers include a drinking vessel or a paperweight!!

 It is an axe head. Bronze Age man hafted it to a wooden handle and used the D shaped loop on the side for strapping.  Butchering, wood-cutting and self-defence are among possible uses for this versatile tool.

 Mike Dolan


A snakestone fossil

thought to be magic,

I was a cephalopod

with head and foot fused.


In life I relied

on plain hydraulics

a siphuncle curled

like a twirling straw


adjusted the pressure

in my chambered coils,

let me rise and fall

as I dodged ichthyosaurs.


Anne Bryan



Arctic Ocean exploration 11th May

Posted by Peter Howlett on 11 May 2012

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A trawl bulging with sponges

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Diving in to sort through the sponges

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Graham with one of the larger sponges

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The camera sledge being lowered into the sea

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Since the last blog we have moved to shallower water which means that it takes a much shorter time to take the samples, less time between stations and a more hectic schedule. With the 12 hour shifts I have had little inclination to sit at the computer. Perhaps most spectacular have been the samples from the sponge grounds, some of these are the size of footballs. They are difficult to work with without gloves because of the spicules and worsened by the rather nauseous smell given off by some. Sorting and fixing such a large sample had everyone running around madly.

The Campod live video gear has been working, it is lowered to the sea bed and then hopped along a transect some 700metres long. The footage is stored and the megafauna analysed to create a chart of animal communities. You can see some of this video on the Mareano website You can also read all about the programme in detail. We did a similar thing for the seas around Wales and published the results in our Biomor Reports but we did not have the video or geophysical data to go with our benthic sampling, wouldn’t it be interesting to have seabed images for all the communities we have found in the Irish Sea?

As far as my research goes we have collected a lot of relevant material. Firstly I have seen common Norwegian Sea species that just enter the British fauna and some that are found in both regions or so we think! I now have material of thyasirid bivalves to compare with those we have from the Atlantic Frontier Environmental Network  (Shetland-Faeroes) programme and can hopefully describe some new species now.

There is one family of bivalves that are always problematic, the Astartidae, and I now have a good series of northern A. sulcata fixed in 100% ethanol and RNA later for a molecular study that might be joint with the Bergen Museum.

I have not got Anna any Macoma for her tellinid study but I do have quite a few Abra longicallus a species we only get on the Porcupine Bank west of Ireland.

Andy has been building up an impressive collection of photographs of living polychaetes, he will post some of these on our “return to home” final blog.

We dock early tomorrow morning in Bodo so it is now a frantic pack, tidy and clean period so I had better go.

Arctic Ocean exploration: Wednesday 2 May

Posted by Peter Howlett on 8 May 2012

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View from the bridge of the seas which have stopped us working

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It's difficult to convey the size of waves in photographs!

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The GO Sars is able to maintain an accurate position using GPS

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We have stopped and started since Monday due to bad weather and with waves up to 8.5 metres the ship cannot launch the sampling gear. It has also been snowing!  It is very difficult to show the sea in still photos but views from the bridge give some idea.

The GO Sars is a modern research ship with dynamic positioning; this gives impressive accuracy for sampling and bottom photography as well as returning to an exact position for repeat sampling. We have managed a deep station over 2200m with the beam trawl and the sample has some strange fish along with crustaceans and starfishes of many kinds.

A sledge haul from the same site came up with four purple sea urchins along with three of the bivalves that I had come to collect. Hopefully colleagues in Paris will be able to identify the symbiotic bacteria that live in the gills of the bivalve.

We will now move to shallower water where sampling will be quicker, not the 4 hours it takes to do a trawl in abyssal depths.

  • National Museum Cardiff

    [image: National Museum Cardiff]

    Discover art, natural history and geology. With a busy programme of exhibitions and events, we have something to amaze everyone, whatever your interest – and admission is free!

  • St Fagans National History Museum

    [image: St Fagans]

    St Fagans is one of Europe's foremost open-air museums and Wales's most popular heritage attraction.

  • Big Pit National Coal Museum

    [image: Big Pit]

    Big Pit is a real coal mine and one of Britain's leading mining museums. With facilities to educate and entertain all ages, Big Pit is an exciting and informative day out.

  • National Wool Museum

    [image: National Wool Museum]

    Located in the historic former Cambrian Mills, the Museum is a special place with a spellbinding story to tell.

  • National Roman Legion Museum

    [image: National Roman Legion Museum]

    In AD 75, the Romans built a fortress at Caerleon that would guard the region for over 200 years. Today at the National Roman Legion Museum you can learn what made the Romans a formidable force and how life wouldn't be the same without them.

  • National Slate Museum

    [image: National Slate Museum]

    The National Slate Museum offers a day full of enjoyment and education in a dramatically beautiful landscape on the shores of Llyn Padarn.

  • National Waterfront Museum

    [image: National Waterfront Museum]

    The National Waterfront Museum at Swansea tells the story of industry and innovation in Wales, now and over the last 300 years.

  • Rhagor: Explore our collections

    Rhagor (Welsh for ‘more’) offers unprecedented access to the amazing stories that lie behind our collections.