English

One of the great things about being a museum curator is that I am always learning new things on the job. I have been a museum curator for 15 years.  In this time, my job has been to care for the mollusca collections but I have also now taken on the role of overseeing the care of the vertebrate collections. This has meant a whole raft of new things to learn and deal with, the least of which being that the animals all have backbones!

I was recently asked on behalf of the Sawfish Conservation Society (SCS) to investigate what sawfish rostra we have in our collections. So what is a sawfish? And what is a rostrum? Sawfish are incredible. They live in tropical and sub-tropical waters across the world. Also known as Carpenter sharks, they are in the same family as stingrays, electric rays and skates. Their characteristic feature is a long narrow nose extension called a rostrum which is lined with sharp teeth. These run down the length of the nose giving it the appearance of a saw.  To make this nose extension all the weirder, it is covered with electro sensitive pores that allow the sawfish to detect the smallest of movements on the sea floor. Little is known about the wild feeding strategies of sawfish, but it seems they skim the surface of the muddy sea floor looking for fish and crustacea, the way we might swish around a metal detector. The rostrum can be also be used to slash and impale anything that might be passing!

It is mostly due to this excellent nose that all sawfish species are listed as endangered or critically endangered. Seen as a curiosity, these sawfish rostra were prized by collectors. Overfishing and habitat destruction have had a devastating impact upon sawfish numbers, they have disappeared from at least 80-90% of the areas they once inhabited. They are now protected in a large number of countries making it illegal to harm them or trade in the removed saws.

The SCS has come up with a plan to help us better understand these amazing animals. They are partnering with researchers and institutes from around the world, which in the UK includes the Deep Aquarium and The Shark Trust, to launch the ‘See a Saw’ Citizen Science Sawfish Project.  Although the removal of saws has had a negative impact on their populations, researchers want to turn this negative into a positive. By using these saws to learn important information about them, they can then be used to conserve the remaining populations. They have the added bonus that the rostra are much easier to measure if the sawfish is not attached!

So with this in mind, I met with Al Reeve and his volunteer Sharon Williams from the South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre (SEWBRec). Al is an avid elasmobranch enthusiast and it is through him that the enquiry first reached me. We set about photographing, measuring and counting the teeth of a whole series of rostra from the collections. It was an amazing experience to handle these specimens and to learn so much from Al about this group of animals. In the future, we may also be taking tissue samples from these rostra to send on to researchers for analysis. I quote Jeff Whitty, Founder and co-administrator of SCS to explain why:

"The data and tissue samples will be used in multiple international studies to further sawfish management and conservation. Sawfish have been suggested to be the most threatened shark or ray in the world and yet we know little about them, which makes conserving the remaining populations difficult. The morphometric data that you provided will help us improve our identification guides of sawfish and will provide us with a better understanding of the distributions of these species. The tissue samples from the rostra will be used by multiple genetic studies that are exploring the differences in the genetic diversity between historic and contemporary populations of various sawfish species. Information from these genetic studies will allow us to better understand if genetic diversity in current populations have declined or remained steady through the years and thus will inform managers if genetic health of a sawfish species or population is a topic of concern."

It is an unbelievably rewarding experience to know that this work can in a small way contribute to the conservation of this most endangered and enigmatic animal. We are often asked why we hold collections in museums. What good can come out of preserving animals? Why would we want to keep such a negative reminder of the wildlife that we have slaughtered on mass in our past? And we can answer that some good can come out of it. To conserve, to learn, to educate, to enthuse, and to help us do things better in the future. It is a great job that I am privileged to hold.

You can learn more about Sawfish by going on the Sawfish Conservation website. You can find out more about the Sawfish project and who else is involved here, or watch this video about measuring saws.

Am dywydd diddorol Gyfeillion y Gwanwyn! Mae nifer ohonoch wedi sylwi ar faint mo cynnes oedd mis Rhagfur, a rhydych yn iawn! Wrth gymharu ein canlyniadau o 2011 i 2016, gallwn weld a Rhagfur 2016 oedd yr ail gynhesach ers dechrau'r prosiect. Ddim ond yn Rhagfur 2015 oedd tymherau yn uwch! Welodd Rhagfur 2016 hefyd y glawiad isaf ers dechrau'r prosiect, ac oriau golau haul gyfartaledd.

Beth am weithio allan eich darlleniadau cyfartal ar gyfer mis Tachwedd a Rhagfyr a chymharu heu’n hefo’r darlleniadau yn y tabl?

Mae nifer ohonoch wedi rhoi gwybod bod eich planhigion wedi cychwyn tyfu! Ydych chi'n meddwl y bydd y Crocws neu’r Cennin Pedr yn ymddangos yn gyntaf? Beth am edrych drwy’r adroddiad llynedd a chymharu'r dyddiau blodeuo ar gyfer y Crocws a’r Cennin Pedr i'ch helpu penderfynu pa un fydd yn tyfu’n gyntaf?

Mae fy mhlanhigion wedi cychwyn tyfu hefyd, rwyf wedi atodi llun. Plîs rhannwch eich lluniau fel bydda’n yn gallu dangos nhw ar fy blog nesaf!


Eich sylwadau:

 

Mae nifer ohonoch wedi sylwi ar pa mor gynnes oedd mis Rhagfyr ac wythnos gyntaf mis Ionawr:

Ysgol Pentrefoelas: Pawb allan yn chwarae yn y cae drwy'r wythnos gan ei bod yn braf iawn ac awyr glir bob dydd. Pawb yn rhyfeddu wrth weld mynyddoedd Eryri i gyd efom copaon clir drwy'r wythnos. Tywydd anhygoel o braf.

Athro’r Ardd: Rwy’n falch i glywed oedd gen ti dywydd braf. Mae’n siŵr oedd o’n rhyfedd weld y mynyddoedd heb eira ym fis Rhagfur. O be rwy’n dallt, bydd yr eira yn ôl wythnos yma!

Auchenlodment Primary School: What a warm week for December!

Lawhead School: We had very little rain this week and it was quite sunny too.

Hudson Road Primary School: Lots of warm days but quite windy!

Trellech Primary School: It was a lot warmer this week compared to last week. We can’t wait for our bulbs to grow.

Broad Haven Primary School: This week has been warmer and we have had fog. We break up next week.

Darran Park Primary: The temperature has risen over the week. Not much rainfall this week, quite a dry week.

Boston West Academy: There was barely any rain this week and all of the other weeks did have a lot of rainfall. The temperatures are very weird because they were on and off.

Stanford in the Vale Primary School: Hello, this week it has been warm, amazing because it is getting closer to Christmas. Some of the bulbs have started to pop up. Merry Christmas from Stanford!

YGG Tonyrefail: It was quite a warm week for December.

Severn Primary: We are surprised the plants are beginning to come up because it was so cold last week. It was much, much warmer this week. We had misty rain which didn't seem to end up in the collecting jar.

St Robert's R.C Primary School: Not too cold for the start of the year.

 

Mae llawer ohonoch wedi rhoi gwybod bod eich planhigion 'di cychwyn tyfu! Newyddion gwyllt Cyfeillion y Gwanwyn!

Beulah School: Mae rhai o'n bylbiau wedi dechrau tyfu.

Pirnmill Primary School: 20th December 2016. We noticed that three of the daffodils planted in the open ground had shoots poking through the soil. Is this too early?

Professor Plant: Hi Pirnmill Primary. A few schools have reported that their flowers have begun to bud! Mine have just poked their heads out of the soil! They began to appear about this time last year, but this is earlier than preceding years. Well done for looking after them so well!

Auchenlodment Primary School: We started back at school on Thursday. Some of our bulbs have started to sprout, we are all very excited!

Broad Haven Primary School: A frosty start to the week on Tuesday. On Friday it rained all day. Green shoots are appearing.

 

Diolch am yrru newyddion diweddaraf ac adborth ar y prosiect:

St Paul's C.I.W. Primary: Hello Pr.plant we have had a good week one girl who is a rainfall child said she is having a good time but she is sad that after Christmas she is not going to be a rainfall child so can you stop Mr. Wilson from trying to do that thank you for all your help from K and A.

Professor Plant: Hi K and A. I’m glad to hear that you are enjoying the project! Please thank the rainfall child for all her hard work. Hopefully she will have another role taking readings or logging data! If she is really enjoying the project she could always take her own readings at home. The Met Office have a website where people can share readings they’ve taken: http://wow.metoffice.gov.uk/ Maybe Mr. Wilson would be able to help her the first few times she enters data!

Coppull Parish Primary School: We had a mini disaster this week. The folder with results in was left out overnight in the rain. Although every page was completely sodden, and the file had to be binned. The relevant information was rescued by a group of y5 children including R, M and L.

Professor Plant: Hi Coppull Parish, I’m sorry to hear you’ve had trouble! I’m glad you managed to rescue your readings, well done all! The term planner and other resources are all available on the website, so you can print out new copies if these were badly damaged: https://museum.wales/spring-bulbs/

Tonyrefail Primary School: We lost the rain gage for Monday Tuesday Wednesday sorry

Professor Plant: Not to worry Tonyrefail Primary, I’m glad it turned up! Thank you for letting me know.

Stanford in the Vale Primary School: Hello,Did you have a nice Christmas? Monday, Tuesday we were all off school so that’s why it said no record. It has been really icy in the mornings. Bye Bye.

Professor Plant: Hi Stanford in the Vale Primary. I had a lovely Christmas thank you, did you? Thank you for letting me know why there were missing readings. Keep up the good work!

 

Diolch am yrru newyddion diweddaraf ar y tywydd yn ardal chi:

Ysgol Pentrefoelas: Cawsom law mawr iawn Dydd Iau a dydd Gwener. Dymsa'r tro cyntaf inni fethu mynd ALLAN i chwarae y tymor yma!

Garstang St. Thomas' CE Primary School: It was cold and rainy on Tuesday and we stayed in at playtime.

Carnbroe Primary School: Monday was freezing and the ground was solid but the other days were mild and the soil in our plant pots was moist. No sign of our plants blooming.

Darran Park Primary: This week there was quite a lot of rain.

St Paul's C.I.W. Primary:  Hello pr.plant rainfall on Monday we put was 50 but 60 is the real number bi.

Barmston Village Primary School: We have had a big change in temperature this week and got very wet on Thursday!

Arkholme CE Primary School: It has been cold and a bit wet apart from Tuesday. Hopefully it will snow soon .we have enjoyed it.

 

Daliwch ati Gyfeillion y Gwanwyn,

Athro'r Ardd

Happy New Year!

I have previously been blogging about the artists Nils Norman, Fern Thomas and Imogen Higgins who have all been working on our new play area. This is still ongoing, but I hope to share some designs with you soon. Building on from these residencies around play, we have just advertised two new residency opportunities, one of which looks at how people navigate the site, and the other working more with schools and groups to create new creative workshops.

For information please see the brief, which can be found here:

http://museum.wales/takepart/artist-opportunities-stfagans/

Opening up our collections to the public is a real treat for any curator. We are almost always welcomed with gasps of delight as they enter the treasure trove that is the shell collection at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales. It is brimming with shells of beauty with stories to tell, century old books with hand painted pictures and letters from shell-lovers of the past. It is undoubtedly a place of inspiration and reminiscence and so perhaps it is not surprising that creative writing groups enjoy using it as their muse.

I recently had the pleasure of showing one such group around. A member had already read and loved Helen Scales’ beautiful book Spirals in Time and so I brought out some of her stories with the shells on show for the writers to witness first hand.

These tales of molluscs naturally unfold when going through the vast diversity of the group - where they live, how they live, what they eat – from metal armoured snails at the bottom of the Indian Ocean to ghost slugs rasping earthworms to a spaghetti-like death. The stories are endless and an hour simply isn’t enough! As well as inspiring them the shells evoked memories for the writers too, stories of happy hours spent eating cockles by the sea and of school days where each pupil had a tin of shells to use for counting.

It seemed only right that the pieces the group produced should be shared with fellow creatives out there and so with their permission they are published here. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

 

A few years ago, while researching the history of St Fagans Castle during the First World War, I came across a number of oral history interviews in the Sound Archive with former tenants of the Plymouth Estate. The recordings were made in the 1970s and 1980s with people who had, for the most part, lived all their lives in St Fagans village. Although very few of the recordings yielded information relevant to my research, they did provide a vivid insight into the workings of the estate during the first half of the twentieth century, when village life revolved around the Castle and its owners the Earl and Countess of Plymouth. With Christmas almost upon us, I thought I'd use my last blogpost of 2016 to share some of the villagers' recollections of Christmas at St Fagans in the early 1900s. Nadolig llawen!

Christmas beast

Alexander ‘Bert’ Warden, born in Cirencester in 1910, moved with his family to St Fagans as a child. In an interview with the Museum in 1979, he remembered distributing meat to the villagers at Christmas:

Penhefyd Farm was the home farm in those days. Of course, the Plymouth people kept cattle there and all the rest of it. At Christmas time, they’d have a beast and it would be slaughtered, cut up into various chunks and each family in the village was allowed so much – I think it was about 5lb for a man, and 3lb for his wife and so much for each child. Now that was delivered around for the villagers by workmen from the estate. I did it myself when I was a boy. That was one of the Christmas boxes from the Plymouth Estate. Also a couple of rabbits – each person had a couple of rabbits and a load of logs. [6020/1]

Mary Ann Dodd, a housemaid for the Plymouth family at the turn of the century, remembered using the Christmas beast to make soup for the villagers. In the early 1960s, at the age of 96 and living at the Grange Home for the Blind in Hereford, she wrote an essay for the Museum about her 30 years working at St Fagans Castle:    

Every Christmas two animals were killed, and her Ladyship told Mrs Cousins to use the heads, legs and offal for soup. This was supervised by the Lady herself and was made in my biggest copper saucepan. It was so big I could almost stand in it. The Housekeeper put in the salt and seasoning, and my Lady was keen on plenty of parsley, and all five kitchen maids and myself prepared the vegetables. We cleaned celery, carrots and leeks. Once they knew that the soup was ready, the village folk came from breakfast time on with jugs and basins and all manner of things and they were all provided with meat and soup. [MS 1293]

Children’s party

Another festive tradition remembered with fondness was the children’s Christmas party. This was held in the Banqueting Hall – a large pavilion in the Castle grounds – before the end of the school term. Jessie Warden (née Mildon), who was born and brought-up in the village, described it as one of the 'perks' of living on the estate:

We were always a jolly lot. Lord Plymouth, every year, gave every child in the whole of the school – there could be a 100, there could be 50 – a Christmas party in the Banqueting Hall. Everything from the jelly to the Christmas presents at five shillings per child was paid by Lord Plymouth. And that was wonderful. It was a real Christmas party paid for by Lord Plymouth. There was a huge Christmas tree with your presents on the tree. Lady Plymouth was usually there and would give to the boys and Lord Plymouth would give to the girls. And they’d have a man with a ladder to get your particular present off the tree. The tree would then go to the Cardiff Royal Infirmary. [6020/1]

Mari Lwyd

Jessie Warden also recalled her childhood fear of the Mari Lwyd – a seasonal custom practiced without the patronage of the Plymouth Estate:

They had a Mari Lwyd every year. The Mari Lwyd used to come and that was a chap from Pentyrch, and there was one from Ely. There was one from the village, but then when he finished, his relatives in Ely came out in my day. When I was about ten. I can remember the Mari Lwyd. We were always petrified! The responses etc. were always in Welsh. [6020/1]

In 1933 the Museum acquired a Mari Lwyd for the collection from Thomas Davies of Pentyrch who would perform for one week either side of Christmas. At the time, the curator noted that he had been travelling with the Mari for 35 years and had connections with St Fagans. He probably visited the young Jessie Mildon and her family.