Amgueddfa Blog

Spring Bulbs for Schools - engaging with 175 schools across Wales

Penny Tomkins, 17 May 2023

Penny Dacey, Spring Bulbs Project Coordinator, has been busy helping young budding scientists get outside and investigate the impact of climate change in an engaging and creative way!

Many of you may have heard of this Spring Bulbs project, as it’s been running since 2005! For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, here’s an overview. 

Pupils are asked to help Professor Plant, a friendly cartoon scientist, to explore the impact of a changing climate on the flowering dates of spring bulbs. Pupils do this by taking part in an annual study that involves documenting and submitting weather and flower data.

How it started and how it’s going…

The project began in Wales, under Danielle Cowell, Digital Learning Program Manager at Amgueddfa Cymru, but through funding from the Edina Trust has expanded to be UK wide.

Amgueddfa Cymru now engages 175 schools each year through the Spring Bulbs for Schools Investigation! That’s a lot of bulbs!

Let’s talk science!

Schools that participate in the investigation take part for a full academic year. They receive their resource packs in late September, plant their bulbs on 20 October, and begin taking weather records on 1 November through to 31 March.

Schools are asked to take weather records (temperature and rainfall readings) for every day that they are in school, and to upload this data to the Amgueddfa Cymru website at the end of each week. They are also asked to monitor their plants and to document the flowering date and the height of their plants on that date to the website. The result is that we can now compare the flowering dates for spring bulbs in Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland to those of previous years and look at how changing weather patterns may have impacted on these dates. Isn’t that amazing?


Making a difference - from scientific skills to well-being

The investigation supports the development of scientific knowledge and skills, including an understanding of plant growth, the impact of climate change on the environment, and data collection and analysis. Students are able to apply scientific methods and concepts to a real-world scenario, which helps them to understand the importance and relevance of science in their lives. The process of caring for their plants, getting outdoors (in all weather) and working together to collect the data has numerous benefits, both for well-being and in developing lifelong connections to nature.


Do you know of any schools that would like to take part?

Applications open on a first come first serve basis to primary schools in Wales in late April. If you know of any schools that would like to take part, please ask them to check
out the following pages for more information:
Spring Bulbs Website
Spring Bulbs Blog
Spring Bulbs Twitter

New English Learner Resources for Amgueddfa Cymru

Loveday Williams, Senior Learning, Participation and Interpretation Officer, 10 May 2023

Amgueddfa Cymru Museum Wales have been working with Refugees and Asylum Seekers, supporting people to integrate into their new communities for many years. 

As part of this work, we have developed partnerships with key organisations such as Addysg Oedolion Cymru Adult Learning Cymru. They have been working with us over the past year, alongside their ESOL students, to develop new ESOL learner resources designed to support people learning English to explore our museums and galleries. 

The new resources cover the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea, the National Slate Museum in Llanberis and the National Roman Legion Museum in Caerleon. 

The resources have been created by ESOL tutors and tested by ESOL learners. They follow the ESOL curriculum and cover a range of different levels from Entry to Level 2. 

Now that the new resources have been tested, tweaked, and trialed they are ready to download from our website for any ESOL learner or group visiting one of the museums. (See the links above). 

We also have a suite of ESOL resources for St Fagans National Museum of History which were developed in a similar way as part of the HLF funded Creu Hanes Making History Project in 2014. 

We continue to work with our partners and community members to provide meaningful opportunities for people facing barriers to participation in the arts and cultural heritage. 

We learn so much from the people who visit our sites and engage in the learning opportunities we offer. 

Supporting those people who are newly arrived in Wales to settle and integrate into their new communities is a very important area of our work and we hope that these new learner resources help many people on that journey. 

Diolch yn fawr to Addysg Oedolion Cymru Adult Learning Wales and the ESOL tutors and learners who have contributed to the creation of these new learner resources. 

A new home for some Skomer seaweeds

Katherine Slade, 9 May 2023

Off the  coast of Pembrokeshire in west Wales is Ynys Sgomer, Skomer Island, a very special place for wildlife. It is a National Nature Reserve, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and the surrounding waters were the first designated Marine Conservation Zone in Wales in 2014. This prestigious list gives a high level of conservation protection to the rich marine habitats and species found here.

A collection of over 100 pressed seaweeds from Skomer Marine Conservation Zone have been donated to the Museum by Kate Lock, Marine Conservation Officer at Natural Resources Wales. Scientists have studied the marine life of the island for many years, and these specimens were collected as part of surveys to record the life within this highly protected region covering 27 kilometers of mostly rocky shores including cliffs, rock pools, caves and tunnels.

The collection preserves evidence of over 70 different seaweed species collected from places with wonderfully descriptive names such as Garland Stone, Martin’s Haven, The Wick, Wendy’s Gully, North Wall and Mew Stone. Of the 119 specimens, 107 are red seaweeds, 12 are brown seaweeds, and 2 are green seaweeds. Almost all were collected from below the tidal zone.

A couple of non-native seaweeds make an appearance, Antithamnionella ternifolia, which was first recorded from Wales in 1956 north of Skokholm and south of Skomer. Also Siphoned Japan Weed (Dasysiphonia japonica) which is native to the Pacific Ocean and invasive in the UK. It was first recorded from Wales in 1999 at Milford Haven. Our specimen is from the Wick on Skomer Island and was collected in 2005. This same survey recorded the rare red seaweed, Crested Spermwell (Euthora cristata) which grows on Forest Kelp (Laminaria hyperborea) has a mainly northern distribution in the UK and most records are from Scotland, with a few in Pembrokeshire.

The exclusively subtidal rare red seaweed Lobed Jelly Weed (Schmitzia hiscockiana) was described as new to science in 1985 from Ynys Enlli in north Wales (Maggs & Guiry 1985). It is found on the western shores of Britain and Ireland and our specimen was collected in 1999 from Skomer.

Collections of plants and algae from highly protected areas like Skomer are rare and highly regulated. These collections were made during surveys conducted by the Countryside Council for Wales, which is now part of Natural Resources Wales, the organisation that manages the island for wildlife. The specimens provide invaluable evidence for the species found there and how they change over time and cannot be duplicated. They will now join the other 8000 algae specimens in the herbarium at Amgueddfa Cymru. They have improved the Museum’s coverage of this area, which previously consisted of only small numbers of seaweeds from Skomer.

Please contact Katherine Slade for enquiries relating to the algae collection at Amgueddfa Cymru.

If you’re visiting Pembrokeshire, its nearly your last chance to the visit the On Your Doorstep exhibition at Oriel y Parc in St. David’s, which runs until the end of May 2023. It brings together stories of nature and archaeological discovery in Pembrokeshire and features the Museum’s collections.


Further Reading

Bunker et al (2017) Seaweeds of Britain and Ireland. Seasearch

M.D. Guiry in Guiry, M.D. & Guiry, G.M. 07 February 2017. AlgaeBase. World-wide electronic publication, National University of Ireland, Galway.; searched on 30 January 2023

Maggs, C.A. & Guiry, M.D. (1985). Life history and reproduction of Schmitzia hiscockiana sp. nov. (Rhodophyta, Gigartinales) from the British Isles. Phycologia 24: 297-310.

Sjøtun et al. (2008) Present distribution and possible vectors of introductions of the alga Heterosiphonia japonica (Ceramiales, Rhodophyta) in Europe. Aquatic Invasions. 3(4): 377-394

Caring for nature this May

Penny Tomkins, 3 May 2023

Hi Bulb Buddies,

I hope it’s been a lovely, sunny start to May where you are.  The weather is getting warmer, and the days are getting longer. Here are a few things you can do to care for nature in May:

Go on a nature walk

Take a walk in your local park, woods, or countryside. Observe the different types of trees, flowers, and insects you come across. You could even take a notebook to draw and write about what you see. Why not practice mindfulness while you are outdoors, and really listen, look, smell and feel your surroundings. This Mindful Tour resource is developed for the gardens at St Fagans National Museum of History, but it contains some fantastic tips that can be applied to any mindful walk. 

Plant a garden

You don't need a big garden to grow plants. You could plant flowers in a pot or even in an old shoe! Why not create an up-cycled plant pot? You could do some research into pollinators to see which plants best support them. Pollinators like bees and butterflies are essential to the survival of plants and ecosystems but they are under threat because of habitat loss, climate change and pollution. Schools that entered weather and flower data to the Amgueddfa Cymru website will receive seeds that will help to support pollinators. 

Be mindful of water

Water is essential for all living things, but we should try to conserve it. Some ways you could do this are by turning off the tap while you brush your teeth, taking shorter showers or re-using water from the washing-up to water your plants! You can also help nature by making sure there is water in your garden or school grounds, such as in the form of a small pond or a birdbath. The bird spotting sheets on the right can help you to identify any common garden birds you might see. 

No Mow May

Some of you may have heard of the campaign #NoMowMay where people are asked to not mow sections of their garden this month to help wildlife. You may notice more areas that are left to grow wild over the coming weeks, and this campaign may be why. Be mindful of these spaces and the wild plants, insects and animals that might be making them their home. There are some areas that will adopt this approach throughout the summer, and councils are being encouraged to follow suit and leave safe spaces for wildlife. Maybe you could ask your school if they will support this by leaving an area of the grounds un-mowed? Maybe you could plant any pollinator seeds you receive for taking part in the Spring Bulbs for Schools Investigation in this space? 

There are many other small actions that can be taken to make a difference to our local spaces. Why not share any further ideas you have for exploring or conserving nature in the comments section below? Remember, every action helps when it comes to protecting our planet. So, get outside, explore, have fun, and make a difference! 

Professor Plant

A new Welsh treasure trove of very special fossils

Lucy McCobb, 1 May 2023

Amgueddfa Cymru – Museum Wales palaeontologists have discovered a large number of extraordinary new fossils, including many soft-bodied creatures, at a new site in mid Wales.  Honorary Research Fellows, Dr Joe Botting and Dr Lucy Muir, are working with Senior Palaeontology Curator Dr Lucy McCobb and colleagues from Cambridge (Dr Stephen Pates), Sweden (Elise Wallet and Sebastian Willman) and China (Junye Ma and Yuandong Zhang) to study the fossils, which feature in a paper just published in Nature Ecology and Evolution Independent researchers Joe and Lucy discovered the new fossil site, known as Castle Bank, near their home in Llandrindod Wells during Covid-19 lockdown.  Unable to travel to use museum equipment, they crowd-funded to buy special microscopes to allow them to study their finds in more detail.  Ongoing work on the fossils is revealing a much more detailed picture of life in ancient Wales’ seas.

Where are the fossils from?

The fossils were discovered in a quarry on private land not far from Llandrindod Wells (the exact location is being kept secret to protect the site).  The rocks in which the fossils were found were laid down under the sea during the Ordovician period, over 460 million years ago, a time when what is now mid Wales was covered by an ocean, with a few volcanic islands here and there.

What kinds of animals were found at Castle Bank?

Fossils of lots of different kinds of animals were found at Castle Bank, totalling over 170 species so far.  Most of the animals were small (1-5 mm) and many were either completely soft-bodied when alive or had a tough skin or exoskeleton.  Places where soft-bodied fossils are found are very rare.  They give us an important glimpse of the full variety of life in the past, not just the animals with hard shells and bones that are usually found as fossils. 

The soft-bodied fossils include lots of different worms, some living in tubes.  There are also two kinds of barnacle, two different starfish and a primitive ‘horseshoe crab’.  Our own branch of the family tree is also present, in the form of primitive jawless ‘fish’ called conodonts.

Castle Bank fossils include the youngest known examples of some unusual groups of animals, including ‘opabiniids’ with their vacuum cleaner-like proboscis [Unusual new fossils from ancient rocks in Wales | Museum Wales].  There is also a ‘wiwaxiid’, a strange oval-shaped mollusc with a soft underbelly and a back covered with rows of leaf-shaped scales and long spines.  Another animal resembles Yohoia, an arthropod with a pair of large arms out the front, tipped with long spines for grasping food.  Before the Castle Bank discovery, these kinds of animals were only known from much older rocks, dating from the Cambrian period over 40 million years earlier.

On the other hand, some Castle Bank fossils appear to be the earliest examples of their kinds yet known.  If what looks like a horseshoe shrimp really is one, then it is the first fossil ever found of a group of crustaceans only previously known from living examples.  And another fossil looks remarkably like an insect and may be distantly related to these familiar creatures, which didn’t appear (on dry land) until 50 million years later.

Most Castle Bank fossils are found as dark shapes on the surface of the rock, a type of preservation known as ‘Burgess Shale-type’ where soft tissues are fossilised as films of carbon.  Almost all the previous examples are from the Cambrian Period (when animals with skeletons appeared in the fossil record), but Castle Bank dates from the Middle Ordovician, some 50 million years later. This is important, because it gives us a new window into how life was evolving at this time. 

Very fine details of the fossils can often be seen under the microscope.  A pair of eyes and the outline of what may be a primitive brain are visible in the head of an unknown arthropod.  Several trilobites have traces of their guts inside, and some of the worms have tentacles and jaws.  Only one other Ordovician site in the world (the Fezouata Biota of Morocco) preserves close to this level of detail. 

Researchers in Sweden also dissolved some of the rock in hydrofluoric acid, which left behind minute fragments of organic remains.  Under the microscope, these show cellular-level detail and provide clues to an even greater diversity of life than can be seen with the naked eye.

Future research on these intriguing fossils aims to unravel more of their secrets and to figure out their exact relationships to the rest of the tree of life.

What was life like at Castle Bank 460 million years ago?

All animal life was under the sea at that time.  A lot of the Castle Bank animals fed by filter feeding (filtering small particles of food out of the water) including a huge variety of sponges, along with sea mats (bryozoans), shellfish known as brachiopods and colonies of graptolites.  Many of these may have lived attached to underwater rocks and provided shelter for other animals that moved around. 

Most of the animals living at Castle Bank were small (1-5 mm).  They include lots of juveniles of a common trilobite called Ogyginus (but no adults), which suggests that this was their nursery, with fully grown trilobites living elsewhere.  Many other animals appear to be adults of small species.  Perhaps Castle Bank was a relatively safe, sheltered place, where smaller creatures lived in nooks and crannies away from the more perilous open ocean.

Joe and Lucy are still collecting fossils at Castle Bank as often as they can.  Many more new species are likely to be discovered in the coming years, as the rocks gradually give up their secrets.  We’re looking forward to learning much more about life in ancient Wales.

What can I do if I find an unusual-looking fossil?

As these fossils show, there are still lots of exciting new things to discover in Wales. If you find something that looks interesting and you're not sure what it is, our Amgueddfa Cymru scientists would be happy to try to identify it for you, whether it's a fossil, rock, mineral, animal or plant.  Just send us a photo (with a coin or ruler included for scale) with details of where you found it.  You can contact us via our website ( or on Twitter @CardiffCurator  We also have a number of spotters’ guides on our website, which will help you identify a lot of the more common things you’re likely to come across (



Arthropod = an animal with no spine, a hard outer shell (‘exoskeleton’) and lots of jointed limbs. Includes insects, spiders, crabs and scorpions.

Mollusc = an animal with no spine and a soft body, often partly covered by a hard shell. Includes slugs, snails, clams and octopuses.

Crustacean = an arthropod with a hard outer shell, lots of legs and two antennae (‘feelers’). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps and woodlice.

Bryozoans = tiny animals with no spine that live together in branching, rounded or flat colonies in the sea and filter food particles out of the water. Also known as sea mats or moss animals.

Brachiopod = shellfish with two shells and a special feeding loop covered with tentacles and fine hairs for filtering food particles out of the water. Also known as lamp shells.

Graptolites = tiny extinct animals with no spine that lived together in branching tube-like colonies with cups to house individuals, which filtered food particles out the water. Lived on the sea bed or floating in the water.