Manchester Festival of Nature (MFoN), Sunday 27th June 2021
It’s been a strange time for festivals and events. Following 2019’s scorchingly hot event at Heaton Park, 2020’s Festival of Nature went entirely online with some great digital webinars and workshops, oh, and me with my first attempt at live-streaming some plant pressing. Best leave it to the professionals!
This year we again have some wonderful online content for everyone to enjoy, and we started early this year with twitter takeovers throughout the month of June.
On the day of the Festival, you can get to all the new content on our ‘main stage’ twitter account @MancNature. Also, if you are lucky enough to be taking a Sunday stroll through Heaton Park today, you might spot the Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s gazebo and chat to them about wildlife in the park.
This year, the Museum has supported the Manchester Nature Consortium Youth Panel to deliver their art competition for the Festival. Taking inspiration from the bee and insect themes of the Festival, the young people launched a Pollinator Portrait competition earlier this year. They must have faced a tough choice voting for the winners as the quality of entries was really good. The Youth Panel loved the Museum’s Beauty and the Beasts digital exhibition, so we decided to create an online exhibition to display all the works.
Head on over to our online gallery to see for yourself……..
With everyone staying close to home, this year the wildlife spotting for the City Nature Challenge has been really urban. If you have more images taken over the weekend, you can still upload them now into iNaturalist and your sighting will be added into the count. Otherwise, it’s time to try and identify all those finds! Let’s see how many we can push to be research grade records.
I suspect we’ve had far more pavement weeds this year than we did last year. Certainly, last year the top three organisms recorded where blackbirds, harlequin ladybirds and wood pigeons. So far this year, our top three are cuckooflowers, Herb Robert and dandelions. Of course, although the weekend of wildlife spotting is over, we’ve now got time to make sure as many records as possible are properly identified, so that list could change.
Happily, although everyone was limited to gardens and short walks, the weather was much kinder than last year allowing us to really enjoy our local wildlife. There have been plenty of bee and butterfly garden visitors and the occasional bird to watch as well as all the plants. If you have enjoyed a weekend of wildlife recording, check out Greater Manchester’s Local Record’s Centre so that you can continue putting nature on the map. There’s also advice from the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside on how to improve your garden for wildlife. Click here to apply for a free downloadable booklet from the My Wild City Manchetser project.
The City Nature Challenge weekend has been popular across the country with over 4,000 people taking part and just under 60,000 observations made. If know of a city or region that would want to take part next year, then get in touch with the organisers. The City Nature Challenge was invented and is managed by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and California Academy of Sciences: https://citynaturechallenge.org/
Last year Greater Manchester competed in the City Nature Challenge for the first time. City Nature Challenge was started by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and California Academy of Sciences in 2016, and it has grown into a world-wide urban nature event. The challenge aims to get people around the world involved in wildlife recording and learning about nature in their local patch. It uses the wildlife app iNaturalist, which is great for people .
This year, however, with the world on lockdown things are a little different. Rather as a challenge with competing cities, this year is a celebration of the nature that we have living all around us. Spending time with nature has been shown to help our mental health, so this weekend, why not join us for the #CityNatureChallenge? Follow social distancing guidelines and try some birdwatching from the windows, spot the spiders in the cupboards, identify the insects visiting the garden or windowboxes, and share the plants you see in your local streets. You can also go online to help identify other people’s finds.
You might just find yourself catching the wildlife recording bug!
The botany staff will be supporting the Panama wildlife evening showing a selection of plant species from Panama, as well as talk about the City Nature Challenge 2019 – coming to both Panama City and Greater Manchester soon!
For several years we have taken the students on the Mallorca field-course to the strand-line along the Bay of Pollensa and the dune system near C’an Picafort. Both of these stretches of beach tend to collect odd, fuzzy balls of Neptune’s grass (Posidonia oceanica). Wave action breaks down the dead leaves and rhizomes of Neptune’s grass creating fibres which then become matted into dense spheres. I’ve written a previous blog post about Neptune’s grass on these shores of Mallorca.
Instead, this year we visited a different part of the coast where the material accumulates in sculpted waves along the beach edge. Previously I’ve seen this from the window of the coast, so it was interesting to experience it first hand. It is very soft, prone to collapsing and makes the shore edge difficult to walk on. There must be something different about the coastline here which makes the formation of the fibre balls less likely. Whether in balls or loose, the dried Neptune’s grass adds organic matter to the sand and helps to stabilise the dunes further up the beach.
This bit of beach was at the Finca de Son Real, an example of a traditional land-holding now managed by the Balearic Government as a nature reserve and archaeological site. There is a museum here which gives an insight into the lives of the rural people of Mallorca. Through displays of objects, room reconstructions, audio and projections, the museum explores the site from and from neolithic times into the 20th century including an explanation of how local farmers would have collected dry Neptune’s grass to use as animal bedding.
They may be of flower-visitors rather than the flowers themselves, but these butterfly paintings by Robin Gregson-Brown are definitely worth sharing! I look forward to the next set of works which include the botanical scenery for his moths and butterflies.
About 30-40% of the visitors to the Manchester Museum’s Entomology Department are art or design students and professionals, who come over to get inspired by the variety of insect shapes, colours and patterns, and to talk to the museum curatorial staff about what interests them. Museum’s curators are especially pleased when such visits result in […]
This is a really interesting post on the Awkward Botany blog about alien species and the possibility of plant extinction.
In our current ‘Extinction or Survival?’ exhibition we have illustrated this potential threat to species using the stories of the red squirrel and the white-clawed crayfish in the UK, but of course competition with invasive species is a potential risk for plants too.
One of the concerns about introduced species becoming invasive is that they threaten to reduce the biodiversity of the ecosystems they have invaded. They do this by spreading rampantly, using up resources and space, altering ecosystem functions, and ultimately pushing other species out. In the case of certain invasive animals, species may be eliminated via predation; but plants don’t eat each other (generally), so if one plant species is to snuff out another plant species it must use other means. Presently, we have no evidence that a native plant species has been rendered extinct solely as a result of an invasive plant species. That does not mean, however, that invasive plants are not doing harm.
In a paper published in AoB Plants in August 2016, Paul O. Downey and David M. Richardson argue that, when it comes to plants, focusing our attention on extinctions masks the real impact that invasive…
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Yesterday saw a group of first-year undergraduates braving the baking Mediterranean sun for the first day trip of the Comparative and Adaptive Biology field course. The Bocquer Valley near the town of Pollenca is a great place to look for Mallorcan endemic ‘hedgehog’ plants Teucrium subspinosum and Astragalus balearicus. While the students investigated the distribution of these small spiny shrubs, the staff took the opportunity to do a little more plant hunting.
One beautiful plant we regularly see in flower is the Balearic cyclamen (Cyclamen balearicum). It has very marbled leaves and delicate white flowers and hides in the shade of the larger shrubs. We also find the leaves of the Mallorcan peony (Paeonia cambessedessii). We visit far too late to see it in flower, but we’ve never found fruit either, suggesting that these plants didn’t flower in February or March. Perhaps these are young plants, or perhaps this is an indication of the difficult environment in the valley. This peony is named for the French botanist Jacques Cambessedes (1799-1863) who studied the plants of the Balearic Islands in 1825 and published the account of his travels and his work on the flora in 1826 and 1827.
One plant we’ve not spotted on our previous visits is the Dead-horse arum (Helicodiceros muscivorus). Given that it was behind a tree, under a shrub and in the bottom of a drainage channel, it’s not too surprising that we’ve not found it before. This plant has striking arrow-shaped leaves (sagittate leaves) and a flower spike (spadix) enclosed in a sheath known as a spathe. This specimen had not yet opened, and the geometrically patterned spathe was still closed shut. I’m not sure that I was too disappointed as the plant attracts pollinating flies with heat and rotting carcass smells.
Back in June, perhaps some of the Graphene Week 2015 attendees spotted this little patch of wildness on the roof of the National Graphene Institute at the University of Manchester. This green roof was installed as the building was nearing completion in 2014 and is part of the commitment to improving the University’s campus as a habitat for wildlife. The University’s green roof policy can be found here, along with the other University policies about environmental sustainability.
Ahead of Graphene Week, the Biodiversity Working Group put together some information about pollinators, their requirements and the urban environment in order to have a sign in place for the delegates to read. This roof is particularly designed to attract bees, both wild bees and the honey bees from hives on roofs of the Manchester Museum and Whitworth Art Gallery.
The roof was created with a ‘sedum and wildflower’ mat made up with 21 different species. The low-growing sedums are now most visible around the sloping edges of the meadow, and taller species seem to dominate towards the middle. However, perhaps that’s not true; the sedums may be just hidden by the taller growing plants.
This summer, the Faculty of Life Sciences has arranged for a student to survey the roof to see how the plants are distributed. The Biodiversity Working Group will be continuing to monitor the roof’s progress to see how the composition of plants changes from this baseline. Some plants are likely to thrive, some will struggle and other’s will arrive as seeds blow over the roof or fall off people’s clothing.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been watching a patch of ground on my way to work. The soil is thin (I suspect it mainly consists of brick rubble) and consequently the grasses don’t grow very well. Instead it’s been growing a selection of plants with more insect-friendly flowers. Nothing rare or unusual, but a selection of wildflowers which thrive in an urban area and can attract plenty of pollinators.
Last week it was a foot tall, with red and white clover and buttercups already in flower. The buds of the oxeye daisies were getting ready to burst and the birdsfoot trefoil and common knapweed and were growing vigorously. This week, it’s been mown. I was expecting it to be a riot of colour by the end of the week, but instead it’s a green desert.
It already had a margin mown around the edge to allow visibility for traffic and a path through the middle to let people cut the corner. It’s near a busy road and no-one uses it as a lawn to sit or play games on. I think it would have been much better left to become a flower meadow over the summer (and the museum bees would certainly have liked it) and mown later in the season. I agree with Plantlife and Springwatch: ‘Say no to the mow’!