Amgueddfa Blog: Collections & Research

Where Have All Our Seabirds Gone?

Jennifer Gallichan, 23 January 2023

Regular visitors to the Natural History galleries at National Museum Cardiff will be familiar with our fantastic dioramas, particularly the one recreating a Pembrokeshire sea cliff complete with nesting sea birds, rock pools and life-size basking shark. Recent visitors will have noticed however a distinct lack of sea birds as we have had an outbreak of clothes moths which has threatened to eat all the taxidermy specimens! All the specimens have had to be removed for treatment and some will unfortunately not be returning as the damage is too severe.

A sad fact is that this disappearance is mirroring what is happening in the outside world. Birds are suffering a pandemic of their own, the worst outbreak of avian flu ever known in the northern hemisphere. A new strain of bird flu has been attacking bird populations since the autumn of 2021, spreading from intensively farmed poultry in China. By late spring of 2022 there were increasing reports of the disease in seabird colonies in the north of the UK, and this has now spread across the whole of the country.

Avian flu is a virus that affects a range of birds but as with other viruses there are many different strains, most of which cause few or moderate symptoms. The difference is that this current strain, HPAI H5N1, is transmitted easily and causes symptoms that can be fatal to birds.

The effect on wild bird populations has been devastating, particularly on sea birds who live in large dense colonies along cliffs and islands where the virus is easily transmitted. It is estimated that tens of thousands of birds have died - you may well have seen some of the footage of dead or dying birds or even seen dead birds along our coasts.

In the UK we are privileged to host internationally important breeding populations of seabirds, a whopping 25% of Europe’s breeding seabirds. Worst affected species are the Great Skua and Northern Gannet populations. Up to 11% (over 2,200 birds) of the UK population of Great Skuas have been lost and scientists have recorded such high numbers of Gannet deaths that they think some populations are near collapse. 

The situation is continuing to be monitored, particularly with waterfowl, like geese, who overwinter in the UK. The hope is that populations will eventually develop an immunity to the disease, and there have been some encouraging signs in some birds, like Puffins, who seem to have had a good breeding year in 2022.

We hope to see the return of our seabirds both in the galleries and along our coasts soon!

You can find more information and recent updates on the situation in Wales here: Avian influenza (bird flu): latest update | GOV.WALES. You can also read a more detailed blog about it on The Wildlife Trust blog pages: Avian flu – the latest symptom of our ailing ecosystems | The Wildlife Trusts.

If you want to help, there are several organizations appealing for support to help monitor the situation and help seabirds recover: The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO): BTO Avian Influenza Appeal | BTO - British Trust for Ornithology and RSPB: Bird Flu Emergency Appeal Donation Form | The RSPB.

If you find dead wild birds, you should follow the latest guidance on GOV.WALES (Report and dispose of dead birds | GOV.WALES) or GOV.UK (Report dead wild birds - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)) or  webpages. Remember not to touch or handle any dead or sick birds.

For a handy guide to identifying Welsh coastal birds, download our Nature On Your Doorstep spotters guide: Spotter's Guide | Museum Wales

The conservation of Édouard Manet's portrait of Jules Dejouy

Adam Webster, Chief Conservator Art, Natural Sciences & Preventive Conservation and Rhodri Viney, Digital Producer, 17 January 2023

After decades in a private collection, and under layers of dirt and yellow varnish, this tender portrait entered the Amgueddfa Cymru collection in lieu of tax in 2020. We were fortunate to receive funding from TEFAF, The Finnis Scott Foundation and the Friends of Amgueddfa Cymru to conserve the painting and frame.

The painting was cleaned and conserved in our own paintings conservation studio and the frame in a private studio. The process was transformative, the true colours, subtlety of brushwork and tonal values being gradually revealed as the surface coatings were removed. We also repaired and strengthened the weak edges and removed the unsightly bulges from the canvas.

We carried out all the professional documentation necessary for such treatment, but also made a time lapse video of the treatment and recorded interviews with the conservator and curator at key stages in the process. These will be displayed at Amgueddfa Cymru alongside the painting from the beginning of 2023 and will feature in our online content. We hope this will demystify the process for our visitors and even provide a bit of mindfulness along the way!

Adam

A man films another man standing in front of an artwork in an art conservation studio.

Adam Webster and Rhodri Viney making a film about the restoration of Manet's portrait of Jules Dejouy.

The restoration process took several months, and we wanted to document as much of it as possible. The first piece of filming relating to the portrait took place in June 2021, so this was a long production by our standards.

The process started in earnest in June 2022. We set up a timelapse camera to capture the transformation that recorded over several months, and I visited the conservation studio regularly to interview Adam on the latest progress. It was a pleasure and privilege to see the portrait change with every visit. I also made a significant dent in their teabag supply - the conservation team are very hospitable!

We filmed nearly 3 and a half hours of footage in the studio, and you can see the edited results in the film above. I hope it does justice to the amazing conservation work done by Adam.

Rhodri

Celebrating Diversity in Sport

Fflur Morse, 30 September 2022

The 30th of September is National Sporting Heritage Day, and this year’s theme is diversity in sport. 

Today is an opportunity to celebrate the sporting heritage of under-represented communities and use the stories they hold to educate and inspire.

This blog will explore highlights from the collection at Amgueddfa Cymru to shine a light on diverse sporting stories in Wales.  

Cardiff Dragons FC shirt worn by Murray Harvey

Cardiff Dragons FC was founded in 2008 and is Wales' first and only LGBTQ+ football team. Their first match was held on Sunday 26 October 2008 where they beat the London Romans 5-4 at Caedelyn Park, Whitchurch, Cardiff. This football shirt was worn by the captain, Murray Harvey (a member of Cardiff Dragons from 2008 until 2018), at this first match. 

Swansea Vikings RFC shirt worn by David Parr

Swansea Vikings RFC are a gay and inclusive rugby team. Founded on 9 May 2015, they are the first ever created in Swansea and the second to be created in Wales. 

This is their first kit and was worn by David Parr who joined Swansea Vikings in January 2016. David stated that,

“Being part of an open, inclusive club that doesn't discriminate has been great for my self confidence, physical and mental health and has enabled me to make many lifelong friendships. I wore the kit on many occasions throughout 2016 and 2017 including against fellow LGBT team the Cardiff Lions in January 2017”.

Signed publicity photograph of boxer, Pat Thomas

Pat Thomas was born in 1950 on the island of Saint Kitts, and moved to Cardiff aged seven. In a career spanning fourteen years he won several titles in two weights, including British Welterweight (1975 & 1976), British Light Middleweight (1979 and 1980) and Welsh Light Middleweight (1977). He founded the Tiger Bay Boxing Club in 1984, and after retiring from professional boxing he worked as a trainer.

Flyer designed by Anthony Evans for the Wales Anti-Apartheid Movement

Double sided Flyer designed by Anthony Evans for the Wales Anti-Apartheid Movement (WAAM). The flyer was made to advertise a demonstration held in Cardiff on 16 April 1986 to protest against a rugby match between the British Lions and the Rest of the World. The Rest of the World squad included six Springboks from South Africa.

Inscribed: 'NO LINKS WITH SOUTH AFRICAN BLOOD SPORTS / 'Mae nhw'n chwarae â gwaed yn NE AFFRICA - dim cysylltiadau.

Olympic Games Blazer Badge worn by Eileen Allen

This is a blazer badge decorated with the Union Jack with the inscription: OLYMPIC GAMES 1952 The Olympic Games of 1952 was held in Helsinki, ten years later than intended due to the outbreak of World War II. 

The badge was worn by Miss Eileen Allen from Cardiff, a member of Team GB 1952, and one of two Welsh referees on the hockey panel of that year. 

This was a great achievement for a female referee, succeeding in a male dominated world, when only men could compete in hockey at the Olympic Games. 

Stonewall Rainbow Laces 

Lastly, these are a pair of Stonewall ‘Rainbow Laces’ in original packing. These laces were first launched by Stonewall in 2013, to promote LGBTQ+ equality and tackle homophobia in sport. This pair was given out to people attending a Stonewall Cymru Role Models Programme in Cardiff in November 2019.

The label reads:

MAKE SPORT EVERYONE’S GAME 

The people mentioned in this blog have made an immense contribution to Welsh sport, insuring that sport is inclusive to all. Their stories have become part of the national memory and will continue to inspire generations of people to follow in their footsteps.

It’s important that we continue to increase representation in the national collection, so that it is more representative of the contemporary diverse cultures of Wales.

Please get in touch if you have any objects you would like to donate to help build up the sports collection at Amgueddfa Cymru, so we can continue to diversify the collection and ensure that future generations will be able to learn about all of Wales’ sporting heritage. 

Finally, you can search and view objects from the collection on the Museum’s Collections Online catalogue. 

#NSHD2022

 

Queer Tours at St Fagans National Museum of History

Oska von Ruhland, 14 June 2022

Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales is home to a growing collection of objects exploring Wales’ LGBTQ+ history. Like the other collections, they’re all available to view online in the Collections & Research tab on the Museum’s website. The Collections Online features objects both in store and currently on display.

Though the collection is always available to freely view and people may read through the information about each object and learn in their own time, it is a shared view that it is important to celebrate and uplift the stories and lives of marginalised communities and bring forward hidden aspects of Welsh history. In doing this work we hope to normalise queer lives in Wales, and solidify the important role of diverse identities as part of Welsh culture.

To give an idea of the sort of objects we will be discussing in the Queer Tours projects, we would like to invite you to look through Collections Online, and consider not only contemporary queer icons who make our variety of Pride events so unique, or even famous historical figures who have secured a place in mainstream Welsh heritage, but the lives of the everyday person who may have had to live in secret, or whose activism was never properly recorded. Here we want to bring forward all of these lost stories, in the hopes that by sharing them we will continue to uncover more.

In an effort to bring attention to the LGBTQ+ Collection, we have developed the Queer Tours project to encourage the public to explore the variety of objects and better understand Wales’ queer heritage. This project has been developed by Amgueddfa Cymru Producers on behalf of the museum for the Pride season.

For the ever-growing variety of objects in the collection, and a want to reflect as many important aspects of this heritage as possible, several parts of this project have been developed or are in the process of being developed:

  • A series of social media posts highlighting a selection of objects in the collection and their role in queer Welsh heritage that will be available on the Bloedd AC Instagram account.
  • A digital tour video of St Fagans National Museum of History exploring objects currently on display and the way we can interpret the history of queer everyday life.
  • A self-guided tour for visitors of St Fagans National Museum of History to follow the route themselves and become immersed in history themselves.
  • A  special one-time-event in-person led tour is being developed so that attendees may enjoy hearing about the work at St Fagans National Museum of History and the continuing effort being put into the LGBTQ+ Collection.

It is our hope that this project be useful and educational to people not just during this Pride season, but will leave a lasting impact and change views of what queer heritage means in Wales.

All of this work is possible thanks to the Hands on Heritage support fund.

Nature Finds a Way

Alyson Edwards, 3 May 2022

The Recolonisation of Invertebrates on Restored Grassland:

I’m Alyson, a Professional Training Year placement year student from Cardiff University (School of Biosciences), currently working within the Entomology department at National Museum Cardiff under the supervision of Dr Michael R Wilson (researchgate.net). My interest in ecology, conservation and zoology ultimately led me here, and with no prior specialist knowledge in entomology (the study of insects) I jumped in at the deep end. Within a few months I was sampling in the field and identifying leaf- and planthopper species from Ffos-y-Fran (an open cast colliery site near Merthyr Tydfil). This  is currently undergoing the process of restoration so that it is converted from a colliery site to reseeded grassland.

Sampling in the field at Ffos-y-Fran in July 2021

Samples were then frozen and analysed along with samples taken in 2017-2019

Sorting invertebrate samples using a microscope and forceps into labelled tubes of ‘Hemiptera’, ‘Coleoptera’, ‘Diptera’ and ‘Assorted’ before storing specimens in 80% alcohol for preservation

Identifying and analysing over four years of invertebrate samples, involved looking at 195 samples.  This took a fair amount of time but allows the rate of recolonisation over a 5-year period, total species diversity, richness, and population dynamics within the fields across the years and seasons to be calculated. Leaf- and planthoppers (Hemiptera: Auchenorrhyncha) were chosen as models within this study as they are frequently common within grassland environments and can be used as an indicator of recolonisation progress on man-restored environments and ex-colliery spoil sites. Colliery sites are a common landscape visible across the UK, especially in the south Wales valleys. Their ecological importance and possible biodiversity are often overlooked, however work by Liam Olds (formerly Natural Talent apprentice at Amgueddfa Cymru), continues to highlight this through the Colliery Spoil Biodiversity Initiative (https://www.collieryspoil.com/about).

The 195 samples were sorted into tubes labelled as ‘Hemiptera’, ‘Coleoptera’, ‘Diptera’ and ‘Assorted’

Further sorting of the Hemiptera samples to species level in order to record population and gender numbers

I am currently in the process of analysing this huge data set and creating a report to show the findings. However, in summary, the data has shown a trend of increasing diversity of hopper species within the field since it was reseeded. In total, 33 species were identified from the site – highlighting the ecological importance these habitats hold. Interestingly, grassland species generally uncommon to the area such as the planthopper Xanthodelphax flaveola and the leafhopper Anoscopus histrionicus, were abundant across the site leading to interesting discussion points as to why this environment encourages their colonisation. Other observations and discussions have also arisen from different wing-morphologies (shapes) seen in specimens of the same species. For example, the discovery of long-winged females of Doratura impudica, which are commonly a brachypterous species (short or rudimentary wings) encourages thought on arrival and colonisation methods of certain species, which could potentially help analyse other environments under recolonisation and ‘rewilding’ programmes. 

Uncommon species of grasslands in the area, leafhopper Anoscopus histrionicus (male specimen) were observed frequently at Ffos-y-Fran.

Uncommon species of grasslands in the area, planthopper Xanthodelphax flaveola (male specimen) were observed frequently at Ffos-y-Fran.

Long-winged morphs of Doratura impudica, a brachypterous species (short or rudimentary wings), were observed infrequently across the site

Studying the recolonisation of hoppers at Ffos-y-Fran has allowed me to develop and gain numerous skills which I will take with me into my final year of university and beyond. Not only have I been able to improve on existing skills such as report writing and data analysis, but I’ve also had the opportunity to gain new skills such as invertebrate identification, mounting specimens and taxonomical drawing. I’ve also had the chance to use the Scanning Electron Microscopy and sputter coating, and I have also used the imaging equipment at National Museum Cardiff to create a ‘species guide’ of the 33 observed at Ffos-y-Fran to supplement the report and provide a visual aid. Within my first few months at the museum, I was also able to get involved in a data collection project run by Dr Alan Stewart (University of Sussex), analysing specimens within the Auchenorrhyncha collections to create spreadsheets for the eventual creation of species distribution maps as part of the UK Mapping scheme for this insect group. There are so many opportunities and experiences to be had within the museum!

Looking through the collections and understanding the role of a collections manager

Gaining experience in imaging by photographing Fijian spittlebugs in preparation of redescribing and describing new species

My time with Amgueddfa Cymru has been amazing, conducting research and joining the Natural Sciences team, and has solidified my desire to pursue a career in research. I believe my placement has given me a great start for a future career with the skills I’ve gained and developed through my work on Ffos-y-Fran and my secondary research project. The second project I am currently working on in collaboration with Dr Mike Wilson will provide an up-to-date redescription and description of new species of Fijian spittlebugs with the aim of publication of my first peer-reviewed scientific paper. Watch this space to find out more on the latter project ….