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/
Guest post from James Dowling, PhD Student (Biochemistry)
There I was, sorting through the endless piles of old papers and journals that made up the stockroom of the Herbarium.
I was tasked with searching for ‘interesting’ things, which is a very enigmatic term; it suggested, first of all, that there was something interesting to be found, which after hours of unloading boxes I was starting to think was a bit of a pipedream. But more so, it hinted that there was a very real possibility of finding treasure. A glimmering light in the proverbial rubble.
Treasure, from the pirate stories of olde, has always been gold and silver. Never has it been blue. This made it all the more surprising when, beneath the dusty pages of so-and-so journal from 1905 number 27, I spotted something rather peculiar…….
The jacket was remarkably decorated, and clearly designed with great tact and care, bearing the date 1880 prominently near the bottom. I opened the little book up, and inside was something truly remarkable….
Bleached into the blue pages were a series of ghostly white silhouettes. When you gaze upon them, they appear to gaze right back at you – eternal imprints in time of what Dante might have believed to be a close-up of an angel’s wing.
Returning to the front cover, I could see that, sadly, they weren’t evidence of the divine lurking in Herbarium, but instead they were images of ferns from New Zealand.
I brought the little oddity to Rachel, the curator of Botany at the Museum, and she was just as taken by it as I was. Whereas I would have left it on the side as something ‘cool’ to look at every once in a while, she was much more astute in getting to the bottom of this mystery – what exactly is this thing?
That’s when we came across this paper, which described this book in great detail, along with matching photographs.
As it turns out, in 1880, a botanist called Herbert Dobbie produced something known as ‘The Blue Books’. In this category are also included books from a couple of years later by another botanist, Eric Craig.
Apparently, in very vague fashion, Dobbie said 40 years after publication that he made them using “the blue-print system which has just reached New Zealand”. In brief, this involves exposing sensitised mounting paper to sunlight an then washing with potassium bichromate, leaving the characteristic white-on-blue visual effect.
The question still remained, however – why make these little books? Well, that part isn’t so romantic – he stated that he literally wanted to make some money. Out of all the ways to make some cash, this is one of the most creative I’ve come across. To produce pretty books of hauntingly beautiful plants.
The amount of labour that went into making one ‘Blue Book’ was enormous, and combined with no evidence to the contrary, there probably weren’t many of these things made. In fact, only 14 copies are known to have survived, 11 of which are in New Zealand libraries.
Maybe that means there are 15 known to exist now?
Currently, the fate of the little blue treasure has yet to be decided. It will either continue to reside in the Herbarium, though from now on much more appreciated than before, or it will be passed onto another collection.
It was such a treat to unearth this thing, some 140 years after it’s creation, in near-perfect condition. It begs the question as to what else lies lurking in the back of the Herbarium. We’ll see soon enough, but for now, it’s time to close the book on this one.
By Eirini Antonaki
The herbarium of Manchester itself is a collection of some 750,000 specimens of preserved plants. Most are in the form of pressed specimens on flat sheets. Some are in small packets such as the mosses and lichens and some are even 3D e.g. our collection of fruits and seeds. Apart from them it has also books, plant illustrations , slides projector, microscopic slides, plant models and many more to explore.
Finally something that you can’t miss is our brand new modern greenhouse. You should definitely check out!
The Greenhouse is a hidden gem, located on the third floor of Manchester Museum. It accommodates plants from all over the world in an artistic installation that has been realised with the collaboration of Nonsense_indoor_plants , Jeanette Ramirez founder of The Clorofilas (@Theclorofilas) and our Curator of Botany Rachel Webster.
It is next to Sylvia’s study room, which is a multi purpose room near the new third floor cafe. What a wonderful idea to study or have a meeting with a view of ferns, cacti and tropical plants in the middle of the winter in Manchester!
Want to see more about the Greenhouse?
Then you can follow our instagram profile @mcrmuseumgreenhouse and you can upload your own photos with the #mcrmuseumgreenhouse.
A blog post from Hannah with the help of Rachel Webster, Campbell Price, Irit Narkiss and Emma Horridge At the end of January, a group of staff from across the Museum visited Derby to find out more about how Derby Museums have been working to put people and communities at the heart of their museum. […]
A guest blog post from Hannah, Learning Manager, on our upcoming collaborative PhD that is part of the Courtyard Project at Manchester Museum:
The Courtyard Project is a great opportunity for us to reflect on, research and develop our work, and as part of this, we are keen to gain a better understanding of the impacts of cultural engagement on our audiences. In spite of our best efforts, we often to struggle to get to grips with the impact of our work and tend to rely on teacher feedback, questionnaires and anecdotal evidence. Take, for example, our work with young children; we know that young children benefit from visiting the Museum because teachers and practitioners tell us this, but precisely how young children benefit, how long such benefits actually last, and whether there are knock-on effects for caregivers or teachers are questions that have tended to be beyond our capacity…
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By Patricia Francis Christmas gift tags from Gallery Oldham collection. The Winter Solstice has been celebrated in many cultures for thousands of years. In our northern latitudes evergreens show how life continues even in the depths of winter. In pre-Christian times evergreen boughs were hung in winter to encourage the return of the sun gods.…
Thank you for a great summary of the role of curator. Now we have something to direct people to when they ask!
Working as a curator in a museum is an odd job. It is the best job on the planet. But it is like no other I know of. There are an enormous range of daily tasks a curator carries out, and these are not without their quirks. Here are a few oddities museum curators deal with regularly:
Curators are not Indiana Jones
I’ve written about this before in more detail, but no, we are not Indiana Jones. When we introduce ourselves to new people, the response is sometimes ‘oh, just like Indiana Jones.’ This is a common misconception, albeit a rather flattering one. We do see some dangerous action in the field: dozens of beetles and flies on family friendly bug hunts, slipping on jagged rocks when rock pooling. However, some,many, most do not have whips under their beds. Curators do not steal ancient relics from temples (there are laws…
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Manchester Museum director, Nick Merriman, taking the White Privilege test at the Museums Association Manchester Conference 2017. This very popular stall was one of the brilliant activities on offer as part of the Festival of Change; helping museum professionals grapple with serious issues through creative interventions.
For the past few weeks I have been back at the herbarium returning the materia medica collection to their cupboards following work undertaken by estates.
This project is somewhat reminiscent of my placement year over two years ago at the herbarium when I photographed, databased and organised the collection into their current system.
The materia medica collection at the Manchester Museum contains over 800 specimens of plants, animals and minerals that were used for medicinal purposes. It dates from the latter half of the nineteenth century and was originally used as a teaching tool for medical and pharmacy students at Owens College.
Following the 1858 Medical Act, anyone wishing to be a practicing physician first had to be included on the medical register. This required them to pass at least one of the qualifications recognised by the General Medical Council – such as those by the Royal College of Physicians – and the majority of these involved some form of examination into materia medica. As such, materia medica was an essential subject for any medical student during the nineteenth century.
The role of the materia medica collection as a teaching resource, therefore, meant that it was a vital part of medical education at Owens College. This was particularly evident given that the collection at the time had its own dedicated museum at the medical school!
The building that housed this museum no longer exists so the collection no longer has its own museum, but instead resides in the tower of the Manchester Museum as part of the herbarium.