Author Archives: Caroline

About Caroline

Hello, I'm a wildlife gardener and ecologist managing the Wildlife Garden at the Museum

Newts in the Wildlife Garden

Pond in mid summer

The main Wildlife Garden pond in mid-summer © R Adams

At this time of year we start to prepare for our annual pond-clearing tasks which include pulling out some of the reeds along the pond margins and thinning water-lilies –  all to maintain our open water pond habitats.

In the meantime, volunteers Miles Äijälä, Rohit Bangay and Frances Dismore give an account of a very different pond activity in April this year:

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Winged wonders in the Wildlife Garden | UK Wildlife

The warm, sunny days that alternate with the frequent, damp weather days this month release a burst of colourful insect activity for visitors to observe amongst the variety of habitats and flowering plants in the Museum’s garden. Joe Beale, who has recently joined the team, tells us more.

Late summer is a lively time in the Museum’s Wildlife Garden. On sunny days you may catch sight of some of our most impressive and colourful insects. Dragonflies that use the garden include the stunning green-striped southern hawker (Aeshna cyanaea), the impressive migrant hawker (Aeshna mixta) and the imperious Emperor dragonfly (Anax imperator).

Photo showing a dragonfly at rest on a spear of purple flowers, with a green, out of focus backdrop to the left and bottom and the out-of-focus wall and windows of the Museum in the background.

A migrant hawker dragonfly (Aeshna mixta) at rest in the wildlife garden. Photo © Joe Beale

They may buzz you to investigate, but tend to power up and down without stopping like little fighter planes, as they hunt flying insects around the meadow, hedgerows and ponds.

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Sweet grows the green grass | UK Wildlife

While our visitors are being enchanted by large numbers of six-spot burnet moths on chalk downland and adjoining habitats in the Museum’s wildlife garden, less conspicuous species such as the Essex skipper butterfly (Thymelicus lineola) and garden grass veneer moth (Chrysoteuchia culmella) have been spotted flying low amongst meadow grasses and herbs. All three species rely on grasses at one or other stage of their life cycle. 

Photo showing the brown coloured moth at rest on a leaf. It's wings fold over its abdomen giving it a long, narrow shape.

Garden grass veneer moth (Chrysoteuchia culmella)

Frances Dismore tells us more about the importance of grasses: Last summer, on donning the Museum wildlife garden volunteers’ T-shirt with the words “talk to me” emblazoned on the back, I hadn’t anticipated the number of discussions about grasses I’d have with young visitors to the garden. I attribute this to the sheep. Children would stop to ask their names and our conversations inevitably turned to the evident relish the sheep took in grazing the chalk hill and meadows.

I would proffer the speculation that it was an especially charmed existence to have a job guzzling grass seven hours a day and suggested that surely the children would agree since they themselves probably tucked into a heaped plate of grasses every day of the week.

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A weekend for pollinators | UK Wildlife

The meadow plants, red clover and meadow buttercup, mentioned at the end of our previous blog, are just some of the colourful species in our meadows and on hedgebanks at this time of year. Bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), meadow cranesbill (Geranium pratense), oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) have not only livened up our grassland habitats for us and our visitors, but they also attract and benefit bees, butterflies, beetles and flies.

Photo showing a meadow of flowers and grasses. Buttercups and daisies dominate and are visible across the whole photo.

Grassland in the garden in late May

Wildlife gardener and ecologist, Larissa Cooper explains:

This weekend, 17 and 18 June, is Open Garden Squares Weekend where you will be able to visit different gardens around London, many of which are not usually open to the public. The Museum’s Wildlife Garden will be taking part with activities and displays on offer for all; and this year we’ll be taking a closer look at the UK’s pollinators. Whilst we’re busily getting ready for this event, here’s a post for you all about some of the lesser-known pollinators, and some tips on how you can make your own garden pollinator friendly.

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Hedgerow spring in the Wildlife Garden | UK Wildlife

At this time of year, we find a ‘first flower’ of the season almost every day. Last week, a guelder-rose (Viburnum opulus) I had been watching closely in one of the hedges came into flower (nearly a month earlier than last year) and on the bank below it a columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris) came into flower joining greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea) wood millet (Milium effusum) and red campion (Silene dioica).

Photo with a circle of emerging white flowers in the centre surrounding buds, with green leaves in the background.

Guelder-rose in blossom

Just a couple of months ago when these plants were not even in bud we were completing our winter coppicing and hedge-laying programme. Coppicing continues on rotation. Some of the coppiced hazel is used for stakes and binders for hedges as illustrated below.

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Focus on fungi in the Wildlife Garden | UK Wildlife

A few weeks ago as the hours of daylight were gradually lengthening, we were cheered by signs of spring growth through the decomposing leaf litter. The leaf tips of Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum), have been pushing up since the end of December, as well as the smaller spikes of bluebell leaves. First flowers are late this year, compared to the past few years. Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) flowered on 2 February, 11 days later than last year, and daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) appeared on 20 February – 17 days later than last year.

Photograph showing the fungus in the horizontal centre of the image,

Candle-snuff fungus in the woodland area and hedgerow. Photo © Frances Dismore

With few flowers in sight we have carried out surveys of common fungi and the distribution of these common species throughout the garden. Fungi forays are generally associated with autumn – the most productive months for larger fungi such as mushrooms and toadstools. However there are many attractive species present through all seasons and a search early in the new year can be rewarding.

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Primulas in the Wildlife Garden | UK Wildlife

As the daylight hours gradually lengthen, the Wildlife Garden is becoming greener by the day, and ever noisier as the spring chorus of our resident blackbirds, robins, wrens, finches and tits fills the air. The woodland floor is  bursting into life with different shaped buds breaking open daily – greater stitchwort today, yellow archangel, wild garlic and wood sorrel earlier this week.

Photo showing a small cluster of flowers between two copied stumps

Primrose amongst coppiced hazel (Corylus avellana) © Derek Adams

But the current star of the show is the primrose – the first woodland plant of the year, now blooming profusely throughout our different habitats. Museum Botanist, Fred Rumsey, tells us more about this beautiful plant…

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