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Spring Welly Walk

This spring, a group of young explorers and their families walked the length of the Horniman Nature Trail.

They were accompanied by nature guide Shayna Soong and armed with binoculars and a Signs of Spring spotter sheet.

Only one of the families had visited the trail before, so this was a real walk on the wild side for most of the group.

The Horniman Nature Trail lies in an area that once formed part of the so-called Great North Wood. Other fragments of this wood are found in this area at One Tree Hill and Sydenham Hill Woods.

In 1865 a railway line was built to bring visitors to Crystal Palace. This was the London, Chatham and Dover line. Almost all trees and vegetation were cleared to make the railway. A railway bridge used to cross London Road here to the Lordship Lane station.

On our walk, we looked for historical clues and relics that remind us of its history as a railway line, such as the bumpy clinker underfoot.

We also looked for signs of spring. The challenge was to keep an eye out for blossom, flowers, birds and pond life and fill out a spotter sheet. Once the sheet had been filled out, they could shout out BINGO (but not too loud as to disturb the wildlife!).

We used a parabolic microphone to listen to birdsong which brought the lively chirping and tweeting so much closer.

A male newt from the pond was met with shrieks of delight as it showed off its breeding spots and crests. We also looked at the bat boxes and bird boxes along the route.

What will the Summer Welly Walk bring?  Come along on Saturday 8th July to find out!

We also have two exciting Bat Walks coming up, one for families on the 11 August and one for adults on the 18 August. Come with us to explore these exciting creatures. 

Birds in the Horniman Gardens

Ornithological consultant and bird expert David Darrell-Lambert tells us what to expect at our annual Dawn Chorus Walk

  • Birds in the Horniman Gardens, Blackbird, David Darrell-Lambert
    Blackbird, David Darrell-Lambert

How long have you been leading the Horniman Dawn Chorus Walk?

My first one was seven years ago, seven years! I didn’t realise that it has been so long.

Are the Horniman Gardens a good place to hear the tweets of the dawn chorus?

The Horniman Gardens are an excellent place to hear the explosion that erupts as the dawn chorus starts. You have a nice mix of habitat there with the wooded section along the bottom of the hill, the open grass section in the middle and the gardens at the top. This means you get a nice variety of birds and not too many so you are bombarded, which can be daunting.

  • Birds in the Horniman Gardens, Stock Dove, David Darrell-Lambert
    Stock Dove, David Darrell-Lambert

What birds are you likely to hear?

A great variety, from Great Spotted Woodpeckers to Blackcaps to Goldfinches to Great Tit to Wrens – you can stand on the Nature Trail and hear two miniature Wrens trying to out-compete each other with their loud vocal skills. Once the early birds have finished then you get the second wave with species such as the Goldfinch jangling away from the various chestnut trees in the grounds.

What are the most distinctive bird tweets?

That would be either the Robin, which sings the beginning of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony with long pauses between each burst, or the Great Tit, singing the mechanical Tea-cher, Tea-cher, Tea-cher.

  • Birds in the Horniman Gardens, Robin, David Darrell-Lambert
    Robin, David Darrell-Lambert

Do you have any good tips for bird watchers and listeners out there?

Don’t try to learn more than one or two every time you go out; you’ll just overload yourself. Join a guided walk and listen to the explanations as to how you can distinguish between the different bird song you can hear. If you don’t know what species is singing, try to find it or record it on your phone, then you can upload it to a website and ask people what it is.

What do you love about listening to the dawn chorus?

You never know what you will hear or how the birds will behave. Only last week, I heard a Wren giving an odd song/call – a rattle all on one note – that stumped me completely.

Book tickets for the Dawn Chorus Walk on 6 May or join David on Big Wednesday: Spring for a free tour.

The Conservatory's fresh face

You may have noticed our Conservatory has been under hoardings for a few weeks while we carry out some essential conservation and improvements.

The works are now finished, the hoardings have been removed, and you can now come and see our newly refreshed Conservatory. 

The most noticeable difference you will be able to see is our brand new flooring. It is now a wonderful black and white tiled design. 

The Conservatory now has under-floor heating, interior lighting and better drainage.  

We host a range of events in our Conservatory, especially weddings and civil ceremonies, and the work will help these events be better than ever. 

We hope, with these restoration works, we can keep the Conservatory in use for many years to come.

Find out how you can hire the Conservatory for your wedding or event. 


Our Conservatory under wraps

We are carrying out some essential conservation and improvements to our Grade II listed Conservatory.

We host a range of events in our Conservatory, especially weddings and civil ceremonies, and the work will include the installation of heating beneath a beautiful tiled floor, interior lighting and better drainage.

The work is due to be completed in March 2017.  

Did you know?

The conservatory was originally built at the Horniman family house at Coombe Cliffe, Croydon, in 1894.

Coombe Cliffe house had been the home of our founder's parents, and Frederick Horniman's mother lived there until her death in 1900. After being sold in 1903, the house later served as a convalescent home for children, college of art, education centre and teachers' hub.

Over the years, many voices spoke out for the need for preservation of the Coombe Cliff Conservatory, as the house was eventually left abandoned and suffered from neglect. In 1977, the building suffered considerable damage in a fire.

Eventually, it was decided that the best way to preserve this listed building was to dismantle and move it to another location.

The dismantled Conservatory was eventually moved to the Horniman in 1986, and its reconstruction began in June 1987. The ambitious restoration project was completed in 1989.

We hope, with these restoration works, we can keep the Conservatory in use for many years to come.

Find out how you can hire the Conservatory for your wedding or event. 

Why do we kiss under the mistletoe?

We delve into the festive traditions and mythology surrounding mistletoe.

Mistletoe, or Viscum album, is a curious plant. It is a ‘hemi-parasite’, meaning it grows on a host tree, from which it takes water and support. Don’t worry though, it causes very little, if any, damage to its host. In fact, it has real value to wildlife - six species of insect are specialist mistletoe feeders, including the rare mistletoe marble moth Celypha woodiana and mistletoe weevil Ixapion variegatum. 

It was often seen as a mystical plant because it seemed to appear from nowhere, with no roots, and stayed evergreen when its host tree dropped its leaves in winter. We now know that its seeds are germinated to its host tree by passing birds and its roots are entwined with its host tree. But this small plant must have seemed magical to people long ago.

The earliest account of mistletoe is from the Roman author and naturalist Pliny the Elder. Writing in his Natural Histories in the first century AD, he described how Druids thought mistletoe taken from oak trees was sacred. Many modern Pagans still use mistletoe today.

However, mistletoe is seldom found on oaks. It is more likely to grow on trees such as apple, hawthorn, poplar, lime or conifers.

It is a festive tradition to hang up mistletoe around Christmas and New Year and plant a kiss on anyone you find yourself standing next to while beneath it. But why do we do this?

It is said the roots of this tradition stem from Norse mythology. According to legend, the Norse goddess of love and fertility, Frigg, made all living things promise not to harm her son Baldr because she wanted to protect him. However, she overlooked the mistletoe plant because it was so small. Baldr was then killed by an enemy using an arrow made from mistletoe. In some versions, Frigg’s tears land on the mistletoe and turn its berries to white which brings Baldr back from the dead. In gratitude, Frigg reverses the mistletoe’s bad reputation and kisses anyone who walks underneath it as a sign of gratitude.

It wasn’t until Victorian times that this tradition seems to become popular. It is said that a berry would be plucked for each kiss until all the berries were gone.

  • Why do we kiss under the mistletoe?, A hanging bough of mistletoe ,  creativecommons, Loadmaster (David R. Tribble).
    A hanging bough of mistletoe ,  creativecommons, Loadmaster (David R. Tribble).

Five tonnes of mistletoe are sold in the UK every year, most of which are imported from France. Much of the wild mistletoe in the UK grows in the west Midlands around the English/Welsh border. It is not very common in London but we do have some here at the Horniman, in our Gardens. Our boughs are high up in a tree on Meadow Field and our Gardeners are looking into growing them lower down on the trees so they are more visible.

Visit the Gardens and see what other plants you can spot.

Museum Club: Arts Award Project with Eliot Bank School

The Horniman offers a Museum Club for three different local primary schools. Eliot Bank School’s Museum Club spent last term working towards their Arts Award, Discover level. Learning Assistant, Lucy, writes about the group’s work over the term.

Arts Award encourages children and young people to explore and take part in different art forms, creating a log-book to document their work. The scheme was a perfect fit for our Museum Club format, so we decided to pilot Arts Award with them.

Inspired by both the Horniman’s Festival of Brazil summer season and the beautiful Gardens, we decided to create miniature gardens for the project. Over the course of ten weeks, the group grew their own flowers and herbs from seed with the help of our Gardener, Damien.

  • Museum Club: Arts Award Project with Eliot Bank School, Horniman Gardener, Damien, shows the students how to add plants to their miniature gardens.
    Horniman Gardener, Damien, shows the students how to add plants to their miniature gardens.

Sketching and taking inspiration from the different spaces in the Horniman Gardens, the group designed their own, scavenging for twigs and pebbles to incorporate into their designs.

  • Museum Club: Arts Award Project with Eliot Bank School, Students from Eliot School with their miniature gardens
    Students from Eliot School with their miniature gardens

The Festival of Brazil summer season presented a fantastic opportunity for the group to work with a visiting Brazilian artist to create bandeirinhas (bunting) and to find out about her work, and Brazil, first-hand. They also learnt about Rio’s Selaron Steps, designing patterns and creating colourful mosaics on their plant pots in response.

  • Museum Club: Arts Award Project with Eliot Bank School, Colourful mosaics were added to the plant pots
    Colourful mosaics were added to the plant pots

Finally, Helen our Librarian showed the group one of the Horniman’s rare books: a collection of cyanotypes created by the nineteenth century Botanist and Photographer Anna Atkins. The children were fascinated by her work and loved having the opportunity to see such a special object up-close.

  • Museum Club: Arts Award Project with Eliot Bank School, Students learnt about Brazilian bunting used in festivals, and made some of their own!
    Students learnt about Brazilian bunting used in festivals, and made some of their own!

Having learnt about Atkin’s work and the science behind her cyanotypes, the group created their own (despite the lack of sunshine!) using leaves from the plants they had grown. The following week, the children taught their families and friends how to make cyanotypes, making them together.

  • Museum Club: Arts Award Project with Eliot Bank School, Horniman Librarian, Helen, teaches the students about cyanotypes
    Horniman Librarian, Helen, teaches the students about cyanotypes

Their cyanotypes look fantastic and have contributed to a new book that is being added to the library’s collection!

The group loved taking part in the project, and we received lots of positive feedback from their teachers and families. 

Whilst requiring a lot more staff time than our usual Museum Club programme, the structure of Arts Award worked well for the group, giving them focus, motivation and a log-book to be very proud of. 

Finally, by presenting the group’s certificates in a school assembly, the project has inspired more children to join the club this year!’

Animal in Focus: Flymo and Gizmo

Every month, the Animal Keepers introduce you to a member of their extended family. This month its double trouble as it’s all about Flymo and Gizmo, our pygmy goats.

The terrible twosome are a miniature breed of domestic goat, originating from the Cameroon Valley of West Africa. The breed was created by cross breeding West African Dwarf Goats and Nigerian Dwarf Goats.

  • Animal in Focus: Flymo and Gizmo, Flymo and Gizmo, the Animal Walk pygmy goats.
    Flymo and Gizmo, the Animal Walk pygmy goats.

Pygmy goats are classified as a multi-purpose animal, as they have a variety of uses. They were originally imported for use in petting zoos, and quickly gained popularity as pets and companion animals for hobbyists and are very popular as show animals. Pygmy goats are also used for meat, milk and skin.

Goats have long held a reputation for being animal garbage disposals, but there is much more to them than just bottomless stomachs. New research has shown that goats are just as intelligent as dogs, with the ability to solve simple puzzles and challenges.

Don’t believe us? Come up to the Animal Walk and watch Flymo work out how to get the willow branch that is just out of reach. He has been known to go into his house, take out his feed bucket, flip it over and use it as a step ladder!

  • Animal in Focus: Flymo and Gizmo, This is Flymo, our male pygmy goat who is light grey and black.
    This is Flymo, our male pygmy goat who is light grey and black.

Flymo and Gizmo’s diet includes hay, browse (such as twigs, sticks and hedgerow material), muesli mix and, very occasionally, fruit and veggies as treats. Although humorously named Flymo, ironically pygmy goats rarely graze and act as ‘lawn mowers’. However, pygmy goats are excellent at clearing hedge and scrub as part of conservation grazing management programmes in the UK.

  • Animal in Focus: Flymo and Gizmo, This is Gizmo,our female pygmy goat who is mostly black-coloured.
    This is Gizmo,our female pygmy goat who is mostly black-coloured.

Pygmy goats love fun activities to do, they are superb climbers and will jump and play on obstacles. They are often seen balancing on the wooden stumps and on the sleepers inside their paddocks. As part of their natural behaviour, they head butt each other, the fences, objects and very occasionally their keepers.

Come visit the Animal Walk to meet the twins and the rest of Animal Walk residents.

The Animal Walk is open each day from 12.30pm to 4pm and entry is free.

Dinosaur Cherry on a Prehistoric Cake

Our Deputy Keeper of Natural History, Emma Nicholls, uses her expert eyes to examine the Velociraptor sculpture in our Prehistoric Garden. 

Over the last few months the super green-fingered Gardeners at the Horniman have created a landscape full of plants from the Cretaceous period. Now starting to flourish, the Prehistoric Garden is looking stunning. To top the Prehistoric Garden off, in August of this year we became home to a permanent installation of the most exciting kind- a stylised Velociraptor dinosaur.

  • Velociraptor  , The (r)awesome new addition to our Prehistoric Garden.
    The (r)awesome new addition to our Prehistoric Garden.

Velociraptors rose to fame in the 1993 timeless classic Jurassic Park, in which they are portrayed as scaly, scary, two metre tall monsters intent on feeding beyond stomach capacity and learning how to open doors. In reality Velociraptor was only about half a metre in height and most likely covered in feathers. Whilst pretty certain, the presence of feathers is an extrapolation from other fossil discoveries, and hasn’t been proven for sure. However our Velociraptor is skeletal so the choice of ‘to feather or not to feather’, was not something we needed to worry about.

Our Velociraptor was generously funded by an anonymous donor, for which we are incredibly grateful. It started life as a number of large 8 mm steel sheets, from which the raptor’s parts were cut and then welded together by Neil Bowen of Lakeland Steel. Now fully assembled in the Prehistoric Garden, it measures an impressive 1.5 m in height. It is therefore around three times life size and an imposing addition to our gardeners’ latest masterpiece.

  • Velociraptor, Upside down and in pieces
    Upside down and in pieces

When the Velociraptor first arrived it was deep silver in colour but we are letting it weather to a beautiful tan brown. Exposed to the elements, the mild steel corrodes at around 1 mm a year. Those of you quick at maths will have calculated that in 8 years’ time our Velociraptor will therefore be a pile of twinkling dust, but that’s only if we leave it untreated. Once corroded to the perfect tan colour, Head Gardener Wes Shaw will coat it in a protective sealant to protect the steel from further degradation.

  • Velociraptor, Before and after shots show how our Velociraptor is turning a lovely brown as the steel reacts with the elements.
    Before and after shots show how our Velociraptor is turning a lovely brown as the steel reacts with the elements.

I think it’s fair to say that no-one really wants an unsteady two metre steel Velociraptor wobbling around in the wind, so to keep its impressive bulk steady its feet were literally nailed to the floor. It has large steel plates beneath its feet which have been set in the ground with giant metal tent pegs. A large rock between its feet completed the task. So don’t worry, although it looks fearsome, it’s safe to visit… there won’t be any fearsome steel dinosaurs rampaging down the hill any time soon.

  • Velociraptor, The large steel plates beneath the feet of our Velociraptor.
    The large steel plates beneath the feet of our Velociraptor.

Have you visited our Prehistoric Garden yet? Tell us what you think and share you photos on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #horniman.  

Visit our Dinosaurs: Monster Families exhibition - on display until 30 October 2016. 

Planting for pollinators: help save the bees and butterflies

Our new pollinator bed is designed to be a banquet for pollinating creatures like bees and butterflies. Andrea, our Gardner, shows us around the pollinator bed and tells us the best way to plant for pollinators at home.

This summer, you may have noticed a new border spring into life in the Gardens. Last autumn we started to plant up the bandstand terrace bed with herbaceous perennials, which began flowering in the spring, and are still going strong, creating a lovely splash of colour. As it is still the first year, some of the plants might look a bit sparse, but over the next couple of years, they will get bigger and fill out the bed.

This border contains about 50 different species of plants and has been designed to be attractive to pollinating insects. Pollinating insects like bees, hoverflies, moths and butterflies transfer pollen from one flower to another, helping the plants to fruit and set seed.

As farming practices have changed over the last few decades, there has been a steep decline in the wild flower population that was previously their main food source. As a result, many of their populations are in decline. This may result in problems in the future with food production, as so much of our food is reliant on plants being pollinated, so it is important to help them out.

  • Planting for pollinators: help save the bees and butterflies, Photo by Andrea Benson
    , Photo by Andrea Benson

There are many different pollinators, and there is no one plant that is a good food source for them all, which is why variety is important.

Some flowers, like those in the daisy family, are popular with a variety of pollinators. The flower head is made up of many small florets, each one a nectar source for the insects. This includes flowers like the Echinacea purpurea (Purple coneflower), and the Echinops ritro Veitch’s Blue (Southern globethistle).

  • Planting for pollinators: help save the bees and butterflies, Photo by Andrea Benson
    , Photo by Andrea Benson

Other flower shapes are not so simple. The Salvia guarantica ‘Black and Blue’ (Hummingbird sage) has lipped flowers with long tubes. Bumble bees and solitary bees use the lip as a landing platform and push their heads inside the flower to reach the nectar, coming back out with pollen covering their back.

Others, such as the Lychnis chalcedonica (Maltese cross), have their nectar deep inside a small tubular centre to the flower, which moths and butterflies are able to access with their long thin tongues.

As well as planting a variety of different plants, it’s a good idea to try and create a display that has a long flowering season – especially early and later in the year, when alternative nectar sources might be scarce. Winter/spring bulbs like Crocus, Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrop) and Eranthis hyemalis (Winter aconite) can provide a food source early on in the year, while plants such as Salvia and Rudbeckia (Coneflower), that continue flowering into the late summer and early autumn, cover the other end of the year.

  • Planting for pollinators: help save the bees and butterflies, Photo by Andrea Benson
    , Photo by Andrea Benson

  • Planting for pollinators: help save the bees and butterflies, Photo by Andrea Benson
    , Photo by Andrea Benson

Over the next few years, we’ll continue to tweak the planting display. We’ll be adding some more spring bulbs, as well as assessing how well the plants are doing, and replacing any that have died or are struggling. We’ll keep a good mix of variety and seasonal food source for the pollinators, as well as ensuring there is a long lasting and colourful display for all our visitors.

If you want to help out at home, you can. A list of pollinator friendly plants can be found on the Royal Horticultural Society website. By adding any of these plants to your garden, you’ll be doing your bit. You don’t even need much space. A window box full of spring bulbs or a pot with a couple of sunflowers in will be a welcome refreshment for the pollinators flying around your area.

Send us your pictures of pollinator-friendly plants using the hashtag #Horniman. 

The Pollinator boarder has been created with support from the Finnis Scott Foundation

Big Butterfly Count 2016

This year we are taking some time to celebrate beautiful butterflies and marvellous moths.

Join us for our Big Wednesday event where you can take part in the Big Butterfly Count on the Nature Trail with entomologist Richard Jones, go on a story tour with Mr Horniman and do some butterfly-inspired art and craft.

What is the Big Butterfly Count I hear you ask? It is a nationwide survey aimed at helping us assess the health of our environment. It runs from 15 July – 7 August, and during this time thousands of people across the UK will take count of butterflies and moths.

To take part you just need to spend 15 minutes counting butterflies and moths during bright and sunny weather. You can count during a walk, or sitting in one place – a perfect thing to do during a visit to the Horniman Gardens. You can even download a handy identification chart to help you spot different species.

Information about how to take part from the Big Butterfly Count:

How to count:

If you are counting from a fixed position, count the maximum number of each species you can see at a single time. For example, if you see three Red Admirals together on a buddleia bush then record it as three, but if you only see one at a time then record it as one (even if you saw one on several occasions) – this is so that you don’t count the same butterfly more than once . If you are doing your count on a walk, then simply total up the number of each butterfly species that you see during the 15 minutes.

How to send in your counts:

You can send in your sightings online at bigbutterflycount.org or by using the free Big Butterfly Count smartphone apps available for iOS and Android.
Remember – every count is useful, even if you don’t see any butterflies.
The Horniman staff will be taking part in the Big Butterfly Count and we will keep you updated on how many we see!

Tag us in your butterfly-counting pictures at the Horniman by using #Horniman on Instagram and Twitter.

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