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Homes for Bats and Birds

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Jim, who works for The Conservation Volunteers, has been updating us on the latest work being done on London's oldest Nature Trail.

This January, the conservation volunteers put up the new Woodcrete Bird and Bat boxes purchased by the Gardens team.

These boxes are used by most conservation organisations as they are tough, durable and easy to clean. They are made of a mix of wood pulp and concrete, so are impervious to attacks from woodpeckers, crows, jays and magpies who will attempt to raid the nests for eggs and fledglings.

We have put up four bat boxes down around the Nature Trail meadow. This is a good area for bats (probably pipistrelle bats) as the pond is nearby, and this along with the meadow is a good source of insects - the bats main food.  The bats can roost in the boxes and come out to feed from dusk onwards.

Bats live in colonies, so the boxes are all put close together, unlike boxes for birds, which have separate territories.  

Four blue tit boxes have also been put up along the trail to join the other six great tit boxes that are already there. The difference between the two boxes is that the blue tit box has a smaller hole, thus excluding the larger great tits, who will oust the smaller blue tits given the chance.

All of these boxes will provide very useful nesting and roosting sites for birds and bats, and they will help to increase the overall biodiversity and educational value of the Nature Trail.  

Danny Boyle at the Horniman

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We were very pleased to welcome Oscar-winning filmmaker Danny Boyle to the Horniman yesterday evening.

Danny and his crew filmed a pilot for a Channel 4 show Babylon in the local area last November. To thank SE23 residents, he and his team offered to hold a Q&A talk which we were delighted to host.

Questions from the audience ranged from his favourite films, his proudest moment, the show filmed here in Forest Hill and, of course, the 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. Danny entertained and enthralled the audience with tales from his award winning film and stage career and charmed us all.

After the Storm in the Horniman Gardens

If you visited last week, you will have seen that on some days parts or all of the Gardens had to be closed. This was to allow the Gardens team, to inspect each of the trees and clear away any damage caused by the gale force winds of St. Jude.

Many of the trees suffered damage to branches in the storm, and a tree surgeon needed to make sure these were brought down and removed safely.

We also lost 4 complete trees. Two fell in the high winds and 2 more had to be felled as they were left severely damaged and unsafe. Then work began to remove some of the stumps left behind.

One of the trees which had to be felled last week was a large Ash. Gardener Andrea managed to catch the event on camera.

The tree had suffered severe damage to a large branch, and upon investigating and climbing the tree to remove this it became clear it was not safe to leave the rest of the tree standing.

It is a shame to see mature trees like this Ash come to an end, particularly since many people are familiar with the older trees in the Gardens, but in the end their removal can be vital for the safety of visitors.

The Horniman's Head of Horticulture, Wes, explains that for the Gardens team it is important to look on the positive side after an event like this, to see an opportunity to think again about plans for the space, and future replanting.

This tree's stump will be left in the ground for visitors to discover. It's the perfect chance to explore nature and perhaps even discover the age of this tree by counting the rings.

A Family Field Trip to Brixham

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As you might have heard, back in September we were joint winners of the Family Friendly Museum Award 2013, along with Brixham Heritage Museum. Of course, someone had to pay visit to our fellow winner and see all their fantastic work (and perhaps even bring back a few ideas for the Horniman).
Amy from Exhibitions set off on a family fieldtrip and has sent us her report.

I recently paid Brixham a visit with my husband Jamie and son John. We got there quite late in the afternoon, and they kindly allowed us to come in for free (even though the entry fee is a very reasonable £2).

The building itself is very interesting: the museum is housed in the town's old police station and some of the exhibits are in the former police cells.

The museum shows the heritage of the village of Brixham, from prehistory to the modern day. It features many stories from its maritime past, particularly during the Second World War.

We learned that there is a cave under the town, which can't be visited any more but sounds fascinating. The museum even had some prehistoric animal teeth found in the Brixham caves!

We can definitely see why Brixham are joint winners of the award. The volunteers working there are very friendly, armed with rucksack quizzes for older children and a display of toys, including a train which John absolutely loved.

They make lots of effort to engage young children, including providing colouring-in sheets, a dressing up box and a place for kids to do their own archaeological dig.

As we were leaving, John was given a free badge so he could remember his visit. We all loved our day out, and the staff at Brixham were really friendly, sweet and welcoming to our family.

Congratulations to Brixham on their win! It sounds like it was well-deserved.

Bioblitz Round Five: Fish Reviewed

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We have reviewed the final vertebrate collection, the fish. Ollie Crimmen from the Natural History Museum helped us out. Ollie has worked in the fish section at the NHM for over 40 years and is a Senior Curator there. To find out more about his work and to hear some of his fantastic tales (e.g. his childhood visits to the NHM and working with Damien Hirst) head over to the NHM's website.

Most of the fish material is fluid preserved which meant we spent a day and a half in the fluid container with Ollie looking through a few hundred jars. As with all the previous reviews, Ollie was looking for fish specimens of significance in terms of their historic and scientific attributes. Rarities were also highlighted, as were those with particularly special public engagement potential. We labelled these up with our green Star labels.

We also looked at material at the other end of the scale: specimens which, for a variety of reasons, could be flagged as candidates for re-use (perhaps in an institution better placed to explore that specimen's story). We'll be talking about this in a later blog post.

Once the fluid material was reviewed, we moved inside to look at the dry specimens: fish cases, skeletal material and other odds and ends. Ollie worked his way through the relatively large number of globe and puffer fish and then had a look through the fish osteology (bone) collection.

Reviewing the rest of the fish collection only took a few hours, so in two days we managed to look at all of our fish material. That means now the vertebrates and invertebrates have all been reviewed, as have the geology collections. In fact, all that's left are the botany (plants) and oology (eggs) reviews to do.

Check out our Flickr page to see all the photos from the reviews so far and remember to follow us @HornimanReviews on Twitter for updates and more behind the scenes treats.

Bioblitz Rocks! Geoblitz: Round Two - Fossils Reviewed

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The last of our geological collections were reviewed recently as part of our Bioblitz project.

We were visited by Matthew Parkes, the Assistant Keeper of Natural History at the National Museum of Ireland, where he looks after rocks, meteorites and minerals, as well as the extensive fossil collection. Matthew's present roles include being Editor of The Geological Curator journal for the Geological Curators' Group, and he also serves on the Collections Advisory Committee for the British Geological Survey.

With over 175,000 specimens to review over three days, we knew we had to be quick. Luckily we had done many Bioblitz reviews by this point and were able to hit the ground running. Matthew and Paolo, Deputy Keeper of Natural History at the Horniman, looked through every one of the hundreds of drawers in the geology store.

As they went, Matthew highlighted any significant material, such as specimens collected by someone historically important, material with fantastic public engagement opportunties because of the stories associated with it, or specimens collected from protected areas.

The geology store rooms don't make it too easy to have a quick look at the collection but by being prepared and setting up a system of opening drawers, checking the contents, recording the results, labelling the specimens, etc. we were able to be more efficient and get through them.

Like with some of the previous reviews, a large part of the geology collection was to identify areas which warrant further research. Highlighting parts of the collection which may prove very important means we can prioritise our work in the future.

At the same time as the review, we had someone in to check the fossil collections for radioactive material. We also had our workshop technician pop in to help us loosen some stubborn drawers so that Matthew could have a look at every single specimen in the collection and leave no stone unturned.

That's the entire geology collection reviewed and the Bioblitzes are almost done. Next up: fish.

 

Alpacas arrive in the Animal Walk

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Today we got to welcome two new arrivals to the Horniman Gardens.

George and Percy are two young male alpacas who will be making themselves at home in the Animal Walk.

Over the coming weeks they will be settling in and getting to know Cat and the rest of the Animal Keepers before the Animal Walk opens later this Summer.

These three aren't too sure about the new boys - they've never seen sheep with such long necks before! Either that or they're just upset at having their limelight stolen.

George and Percy are here on a holiday from their home in Kent, and will stay here until our own alpaca pair is ready to move in. We hope they feel at home during their stay and that lots of our visitors are able to meet and greet them before they head back.

If you do spot them from the Gardens, they're pretty easy to tell apart. Percy is a little taller, and almost white in colour, while George is a smaller chap in a light brown colour called 'fawn'.

There are still a few smaller animals to arrive in the Animal Walk before opening. They will all spend time getting to know their new keepers and surroundings, while we make sure they are ready for their admiring public. Watch this space for further updates.

Collecting in Benin

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A textile piece from northern Benin is a new addition to the Horniman's Anthropology Collection, as result of the Horniman Museum Collecting Initiative.

The piece was commissioned earlier this year by Sam Nixon of the University of East Anglia, as part of the ERC-funded project Crossroads of Empires, which aims to explore Archaeology, material culture and sociopolitical relationships in West Africa.

Sam updates us on how the piece was commissioned and made:

The textile commissioned is a ‘wedding blanket’ (Babbagi), both worn and used for decorating the home. It was made by Tanda Hamani, a retired weaver, who also made the loom to produce it.

Tanda already possessed various loom components, and shuttles.

Although the textile was made in a cotton producing area, the cotton Tanda used actually came from neighbouring Niger. No textiles had been made in the weaver’s household for seven years.

The blanket was woven in narrow strips, which would then be sewn together.

Each strip has to be carefully created with a view as to how it fits into the overall design.

After some two weeks, with all strips completed, they were unrolled and divided up, the ‘unwoven’ gaps defining the individual strips cut to free them.

Sewing the strips together completes the design developing in the weaver’s mind. Eventually they combine to create a mosaic of colour and design.

The textile was kindy modelled for us, showing the central square motif on the back.

Accompanying the ‘wedding blanket’ in the Horniman collection will be film footage, photographs, and a report by the supervising researchers (Lucie Smolderen, Université Libre de Bruxelles, and Romuald Tchibozo, Université Abomey-Calavi).

Ever wondered how to lift a one-ton Walrus?

Next week the Horniman Walrus will be making his way to Margate to feature in the Hayward Touring exhibition Curiosity: Art & The Pleasures of Knowing at Turner Contemporary.

Our famously over-stuffed walrus, weighing in at just under one ton, has been in our Natural History Gallery since 1901. Since then, he hasn’t moved more than 25 feet, so getting him out and on his way to the coast is a huge task for museum staff to organise.

Our conservation department has been working with specialist art handlers to ensure the move goes as smoothly as possible. Preparations are under way: the Walrus has already received his annual clean, and the larger pieces of his iceberg are being moved away.

The biggest challenge is the need to lift the Walrus out of the gallery over the other cases. The Natural History Gallery will be closed to the public next week while this is happening, but we've put together some simple sketches to help you picture what will happen.

Ever wondered how to lift a one-ton Walrus?

The Walrus will be lifted on Monday 13 and will leave the Museum on Wednesday 15 May. The Natural History Gallery will be closed throughout, so this week is your last chance to wave goodbye and wish him well on his holiday. He'll return to the Museum in September.

Be sure to follow the Walrus' journey on Twitter, and keep an eye on our blog, as we'll be live-blogging throughout. You can even catch up with the Walrus' own comments @HornimanWalrus.

Tea Drinking Along the Silk Road

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On Tuesday 23 April we were delighted to host a lecture by Helen Saberi, author of numerous books and articles on the history of food and drink.

Following on from research she undertook for her most recent publication Tea: A global history, Helen took us through the story of tea trade along the Silk Road. She illustrated her history with some remarkable examples of tea preparation from across Asia, including a Tibetan recipe whereby black tea is mixed with yak butter and the dregs of the cup mopped up with roasted barley flour.

Another example was qymaq chai, an Afghan wedding tea which mixes green tea with baking soda to turn it pink before milk, sugar and cardamom are added. Finally, the cup is topped off with a ‘float’ of clotted cream.

After the talk we held a tea tasting and, as it was a beautiful evening, we opted to set it outside on the terrace of our new Gardens Pavilion. Since it seemed strange to drink artisanal teas from  impersonal cups we invited guests to bring their own. There was a great selection, with examples ranging from a Czech produced chai cup purchased in Uzbekistan, to a hand-painted mug commemorating sheep and Scotland!

Don’t forget to book for our next Horniman Talk as part of our Food, Drink and Feasting series, when Dr. Any Mills will be exploring Western Polynesian Food and Drink: Acts of Power on Tuesday 21 May.

You can book for this free event, and the other talks in our series, online through EventBrite.

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