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On the 5th June undeterred by his previous stinging incident Nigel ventured up to the rooftop hives, this time accompanied by Sally.  The weather was much better for this visit, a nice sunny warm day with temperatures about 17 °C and very light winds.  The pair started checking the hives, the weaker colony was its usual slightly depressed self, it was noted that there were reserves of honey and a reasonable number of capped brood on the central frames of the hive. The beekeepers went through the frames one at a time and inspected the bees and despite there being far fewer bees in this hive the queen couldn’t be spotted! She’s unmarked and really quite a small queen bee compared to our other one, so it’s not unsurprising that she’s hard to spot even if there are only a few bees!

The strong colony was thriving and incredibly busy as usual. The small frames in the super are getting heavy with honey and some of the frames are almost full and the bees are sealing them with a cap of wax. Looking through the large Deep National brood box frames it was clear that there were more queen cells being produced. Sally and Nigel removed 11 cells – some which were definitely queen cells and some others were suspect drone or play cells (cells where the bees test building queen cups but never lay any eggs), clearly our bees are intent on producing a new queen but why? Queen cups/cells can be several different types: Emergency Queen Cells- produced when the queen is dead or lost; Swarm Cells, produced around the bottom of the frames and are completely vertical and lastly and the type we seem to have most of, are Supersedence Cells. These long vertical cells are produced mid frame on the face of the comb. The intention of these cells is to produce a replacement queen, usually when the existing queen is old or is running out of sperm. Really there should be no need to remove these Supersedence cells but with a young queen, bred last year, and lots of healthy brood being produced, removal of these cells seems like a wise precaution. In the next few weeks we’ll be bringing our bee keeping mentors from Natures Little Helpers to advise on how best to deal with them in the long term. 

There was more pain for Nigel this inspection, although he was wearing a smock and veil over the top half of his body he only had thin suit flannel trousers on!

Over many of the past inspections it has seemed like the bees are preferentially attracted to or angered by male beekeepers. The guys have been stung with far greater frequency than our female beekeepers. This time Nigel must have really aggravated them – he was stung 6 times through his thin trousers! Six times! That must have really hurt- I bet there was some choice language used!

St Brigid’s primary in Denbighshire won a trip to The National Slate Museum in Llanberis and a day of nature based activities as their prize for participating in the Spring Bulbs in schools project 2014-15. St Brigid’s year 6 class worked very hard on the project this year, taking daily weather readings and sending these in weekly to the Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales website. Each pupil cared for their plants and entered their individual flowering dates and heights to the website.

It was very hard to choose winners this year, as many schools had complete or near complete weather records. To make the decision fair the top schools were entered into a hat and a winner picked out at random for Wales, England and Scotland. Those that were not picked out became the ‘runners up’ who each received £40 gift vouchers to spend on gardening resources for their schools. The ‘highly commended’ schools received meadow resource packs, meadow seeds and sunflower seeds. The ‘special recognition’ schools received meadow resource packs and meadow seeds. All schools who entered data were awarded Super Scientist certificates and pencils in recognition of the fantastic work they have done for National Museum Wales through taking part in the investigation. 

St Brigid’s visited Llanberis on 22 May, where they were greeted by Dafydd Roberts the Museum’s Keeper and myself, the Spring Bulbs Project Co-ordinator. We began by discussing the project results for 2014-15 and comparing these to previous years. You can study the report summary 2005-2015 for yourself here.

Next, we were escorted to the Quarrymen’s Cottages at Fron Haul and given a fascinating overview by Wyn Lloyd-Hughes of how life for the inhabitants would have changed over the course of 100 years. This was a fantastic way of bringing the stories and lives of the families associated with the local slate industry alive and the group enjoyed exploring the houses and discussing differences in décor and possessions between 1861, 1901 and 1969.

Following Fron Haul, we rushed over to the yard for a short introductory film about the history of the North Wales slate industry; ‘To Steal a Mountain’. This was very atmospheric, with the class falling silent as the lights dimmed and gasping at dramatic (or loud) intervals in the film. This was followed by a slate splitting demonstration by Carwyn Price, who split and dressed slate in front of the group. We watched as he split slate tiles and dressed slate into the shape of a heart. He showed us other examples of art that could be created with these methods, such as fans and love spoons. Carwyn offered the audience a chance to try their hand at slate splitting and the class nominated their teacher Mr Madog! He did a great job and was cheered throughout by the class.

Next, Peredur Hughes took us for a tour of the Museum’s working water wheel and explained the process that turned it and how this power was harnessed to operated machines in the Gilfach Ddu workshops. This is the largest water wheel on the British mainland with a diameter of 15.4 meters, and was used between 1870 and 1925 when it was replaced by a Pelton wheel. Standing under the wheel as it sprays water, gently groans and continually turns is quite an experience, especially when you begin to comprehend the engineering skills needed to design and build it. As part of the Spring Bulbs project schools are provided with resources to aid discussions around climate change and different energy sources - seeing a massive water wheel in motion added a level of understanding to these investigations.

A quick break for lunch and we were off up to the quarry for our nature activities. To begin with we discussed the smells, textures, sounds and sights of the woodland. We then went on a mini-beast hunt which led to discussions on how to classify different species and the different habitats our mini-beasts favoured. After making our own ‘perfumes of the forest’, finding out how many legs a woodlice has and that boys are just as squeamish as girls – we moved on to our next activity and built a nest! The group were very enthusiastic, as you can tell from the pictures and the size of the branches/ trees they managed to move with their makeshift beaks (I think there may have been a little cheating here!). It was a fantastic photo opportunity and great fun.

Peredur met us at the Vivian Quarry and gave us an insight into it’s history, including a closer look at the cliffs of slate and an insight into how the Quarrymen worked and interpreted the face of the Quarry. He discussed the rock man’s terms used to differentiate sections of slate, the geology behind their make-up, and how being able to tell a ‘trwyn’ from a ‘cefn crwn‘ helped Quarrymen interpret the slate, manipulate it to the results they wanted, and lessen the risk to their lives through making it possible to predict the results of their work. This was fascinating, the Vivian Quarry provided a beautiful setting, and it was a lovely way to end our day.

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting year 6 St Brigid’s and being able to thank them personally for their contribution to the Spring Bulbs in Schools project. It was a fantastic day, and I would like to thank the staff at the National Slate Museum for their hospitality and the time and effort they gave to make the trip such fun.

Applications are now open for schools in Wales to participate in the Spring Bulbs Project 2015-16. The winners will receive an action packed class trip full of nature activities to their closest Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales site.

Apply here!


Applications are now closed for schools in England and Scotland, but these schools can find information on next years project (2016-17) on the Edina Trust website.

The first ever National Meadows Day is tomorrow, Saturday 4th July. You may have noticed National Museum Cardiff now has an Urban Meadow on the east side by the Reardon Smith Lecture Theatre. It gives us a fantastic new outdoor learning space where just a lawn used to be. Check out our programme of events based around the meadow in What's On.

Our Urban Meadow with the bee hives on the roof is a positive approach by the museum to increase pollinators within Cardiff and are funded entirely through landfill tax. Meadows on our other museum sites help pollinators throughout Wales. With a no dig, no chemical policy, as well as introducing plants and seeds from Flora Locale recommended suppliers, we are following sustainable principles. 

Children have used the Urban Meadow to start investigating the natural world, children who may not otherwise have visited a museum. The next event is ‘Family Fun in the Meadow’ on Saturday 11th July: Help our OPAL scientist to survey the bug life in our urban meadow and learn to be a botanical illustrator. See the What’s On guide for further information

You can find further information and links to events for National Meadow Day on the Plantlife webpages

Also you can follow the Twitter hashtag: #magnificentmeadowsday

By Sally Whyman and Kath Slade

Have you been keeping up to date with our Museum Bee Keeper's diary? Well here is the latest installment of how our bees are getting on:

With a trip to the US meaning I couldn't keep tabs on the bees for three weeks, the other beekeepers are pressed into service to look after the hives. It’s good to know that everything is in safe hands while I’m away, plus my absence gives some of the others a chance to have bit more “bee time”.  In the weeks prior to my departure our strong colony was looking very full of bees, with numerous queen cups having been removed and there being a large number of drones (males) in the hive. We knew that there was always a possibility of swarming and in an attempt to curtail this I’d asked my fellow keepers to keep a close eye on the hives and to check regularly as we can’t risk having a new virgin queen hatch.

On the 22nd May, Catalena and Nigel went to check the hives, here is her report:

"Nigel and I went up to see the bees today, It was an overcast day, not raining and not that windy really and the temperature was about 14 degrees. The strong colony was REALLY full of bees and very busy, there were also LOTS of queen cells being made. We removed SIX active queen cells, 2 of which were much longer than the others. Maybe the other 4 were 'suspect dome shaped Drone cells'. There were also lots more empty queen cells (more than 6 others) which I crushed with the hive tool. The hive is just so full we feel sure that swarming is inevitable. There are lots of drones and drone cells too. We considered moving another frame of brood over to the quieter hive, which would be a good idea but decided to leave that for another visit. We cycled the frames in the super, moving the emptier ones to the middle. We spotted the queen with her big green spot on her back, she nearly crawled out of the hive but we spotted her and we were about to catch here when she turned around and crawled back in.

The less productive hive is still very quiet although there were still bees flying out and bringing back pollen. We took the lid off the hive to have a closer look but didn't disturb anything. There is still lots of syrup/honey in the contact feeder and the bees are still using it, so we left it in the hive.

We checked the new hive with the swarm lure inside but unfortunately it is still empty.

On an eventful note, Nigel got stung on the calf by a bee that crawled up his trouser leg! Not nice at all but Nigel can handle pain!  I think I would have cried if it had happened to me!"

Keep posted for more news about of museum bees.

Climate-change study in your own school yard
Science & Geography (KS2)


Make use of your outdoor classroom! Join the 175 schools taking part in this exciting investigation.


Spring Bulbs for Schools provides primary school pupils with the opportunity to adopt, study and record the development of spring bulbs as part of a spring watch network. Each pupil will receive a Tenby Daffodil, Crocus bulb and garden pot to record growth and flowering times.

Through collecting and comparing real data pupils discover how our changing climate is affecting our seasons and what this means for ourselves and the nature around us. Pupils take part in Professor Plant's Challenges to receive a super scientist certificate.

Any schools in Wales can take part as results are collected over the internet (or by post if necessary). This is an on-going investigation which means schools can take part year after year.

To apply for Spring Bulbs for Schools 2015-2016 please fill out the online application form by following the link below.

Application are now open but numbers are limited so apply soon to ensure your place on the project! Application is only open to schools in Wales. Recruitment for English and Scottish schools has closed but please contact The Edina Trust for information about taking part in the project 2016-2017.

Spring Bulbs for Schools - Application form

For enquiries please Email SCAN