Tag Archives: collections

Object of the Month – June 2022

June’s object of the month celebrates the Lost Language of Nature project, with repair work to this hen harrier. With Lost Language of Nature, we want to hear your stories about wildlife and nature in your life, or rhymes, songs and sayings for all kinds of animals that you might have heard from parents or grandparents. For example, different old names across the country for hen harriers include Blue sleeves, Vuzz kitt, Grey gled, Furze kite and Goss harrier; or Ringtail for females, like this fragile mounted skin. Head to our website for more information https://www.swmuseumlearning.com/the-lost-language-project

This bird came to the Museum in the 1800s, and was taken from the area around Saffron Walden. Today, hen harriers only live in the north of England, north Wales, in Scotland and on Scottish islands, including Arran and Orkney.

Hen harrier on temporary base during conservation work.

Hen harriers today

Hen harriers are one of the UK’s most endangered birds of prey, with only an estimated 545 breeding pairs left in the country. They are on the RSPB’s Red List of endangered species in Britain, but listed as ‘Least Concern’ globally by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Work carried out by the RSPB suggests that over 2,500 pairs could survive in the UK. They live in open areas with low vegetation, like heather moors.

Between 2014 and 2019, the RSPB ran the LIFE project to learn more about hen harriers in Britain, their movements throughout the year and to understand why their numbers are so low. They tagged over 100 birds that they tracked using satellites, and found that some fly 1000 miles to spend the winter in Spain and Portugal. Not all birds do this though – the brother of one of these wandering birds always stayed within 50 miles of where he hatched.

In the UK, hen harriers are protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, meaning it is illegal to kill, injure or capture the birds, their eggs or nests, or even disturb the birds and their young while they are nesting. Despite this, the study showed that the numbers of breeding hen harriers fell by 24% (about one-quarter) between 2004 and 2016. In particular, the project monitored seven Special Protected Areas in parts of the country where land is managed for driven grouse shooting. In these seven areas, hen harrier numbers fell by over 80%, which suggests that there is deliberate human action to reduce their numbers in these areas.

References

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/hen-harrier/

https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/projects/hen-harrier-life/about-the-project/

https://community.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/skydancer/b/skydancer

https://community.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/skydancer/b/skydancer/posts/hen-harrier-apollo-bomber-migrate-1000-miles-to-spain

https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/projects/hen-harrier-life/best-places-to-see-hen-harriersnew-page/

Object of the Month – May 2022

Butterflies to See in May

Two drawers of British butterflies are our ‘Objects of the Month’ for May. They contain some of the butterflies that you might spot visiting your garden or local park during May. These butterfly species are the Brimstone, Green-veined White, Holly Blue, Orange-tip, Peacock, Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Small White and Large White.  The drawers are from a wooden cabinet of butterfly specimens collected in Essex and other places in Britain between 1890 and 1968. The collection was donated to Saffron Walden Museum in 2002.

SAFWM : 2002.110.5 Butterfly cabinet drawer 5 containing Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Painted Lady, Red Admiral and Silver-washed Fritillary butterflies.

Butterflies that may hibernate over winter as adults in the UK include the Brimstone, Red Admiral, Peacock, Comma and Small Tortoiseshell.    This means they can wake up bright and early to make the most of sunny spring days. There are 59 species of butterfly in Britain, 57 that live in the UK and two regular migrants – the Painted Lady and Clouded Yellow.

Butterfly Conservation found that 76% of butterflies have declined in numbers and range (occurrence) over the last 40 years due to habitats being destroyed, pollution, weather patterns and climate change. Gardens and balconies are very important for butterflies because they are wildlife corridors. They cover a large area, which according to the RSPB is about 1,500 square miles or twice the size of Greater London. This habitat provides the flowering plants, such as Buddleia, that butterflies need for nectar, or nettles and thistles which are eaten by caterpillars.

 

SAFWM : 2002.110.2 Butterfly cabinet drawer 2 containing Small White, Green-veined White, Bath White, Orange-tip and Wood White butterflies.

What can you do to help?

Butterfly caterpillars need nettles, thistles and shrubs like Buckthorn to eat, so leave parts of your garden to get wild and overgrown.

Plant cornfield annuals and nectar rich flowering plants such as Buddleia, Lavender, Betony and Red Valerian to provide nectar for butterflies.

Take part in No Mow May or leave part of your lawn uncut until autumn.

Enjoy watching butterflies and do the National Garden Butterfly Survey.

 

SAFWM : 2002.110 Butterflies from cabinet drawers 3, 11 and 1. Brimstone male and female, Holly Blue males upper side and underside and female, Large White butterflies upper side and underside.

Object of the Month – February 2022

February’s Objects of the Month are minerals with connections to love and relationships, in honour of St Valentine’s Day on 14 February.

4 mineral specimens on a white background. Lines of shade cross the image.

Amethyst geode (top left), sapphire (bottom left), ruby crystals in sheet of mica (middle), lapis lazuli (right).

Amethyst is the birthstone for February, but as a symbol of love, St Valentine is said to have worn an amethyst ring so Christian couples in Ancient Rome could identify him. Valentine was a priest who carried out forbidden Christian marriages and married young couples, when the Roman empire persecuted Christians and preferred their soldiers to be unmarried men.

Lapis lazuli can represent truth and friendship, and in Christianity represents the Virgin Mary. With the blue of the sky and gold of the sun, it represents success in Jewish traditions, while beads found in the ancient town of Bhirrana from 7500 BCE are its oldest known use by people. The remains of Bhirrana are in the Indian state of Haryana.

The deep red colour of high-quality rubies means it is associated with love and passion in modern societies. Throughout history it has been popular in Burma (Myanmar), Hindu culture and China as a protective gem in battle or to secure good fortune when put beneath a building’s foundations. In the UK, it is the traditional gift for a 40th wedding anniversary.

Sapphires are popular for engagement rings, as used for Lady Diana’s engagement ring from Prince Charles. Sapphire is the traditional gift in the UK for a 45th wedding anniversary and can symbolise truth and faithfulness. Ruby and sapphire are actually the same mineral (corundum), with different colours depending on small amounts of other metal atoms included in the crystal. Chromium makes the ruby red, while blue sapphires are coloured by iron and titanium.

National Volunteer Week – June 2020

The first week of June is National Volunteer Week.  With the Museum still closed due to the covid-19 lockdown, we’re really missing you all especially our amazing volunteers, who are all integral to the museum’s diverse activities. We thank you all for your on-going support.  Here’s a message from us to you for #NationalVolunteerWeek  – It reads:

We miss you all so much especially our amazing volunteers and can’t wait to see you again when it’s safe

Volunteers play lots of different roles within our organisation:

Welcome Desk volunteers.  June for example (pictured holding the “When” word, has been one of our dedicated volunteers for over 20 years.  She undertakes the vital work of co-ordinating all our welcome desk volunteers –they meet & greet our visitors and provide them with orientation information, sell admission tickets and souvenirs and answer your enquiries.

Collections volunteers  (Natural Sciences, Archaeology and Human History) assist staff with vital collections tasks such as cataloguing, packing, labelling and digitising collections, they also transcribe early museum records and assist with exhibition installing. #DidYouKnow We also have verge volunteers who carry out ecological surveys of plants at 16 Special Roadside Verges in the Uttlesford District

Learning and Activity Volunteers have a vital role assisting us with preparing and running our school sessions and school holiday activities.

Last year we held a Volunteer Party for #NationalVolunteerWeek. When it’s safe to do so we will make sure we have another one!  The volunteers admired a temporary display explaining how they are vital cogs in our organisation.  They also took part in wildlife surveying with our Natural Sciences Officer, James Lumbard. 

Follow this link for a full-size PDF version  of the Volunteers Pictures  Scrapbook  or see the Flipbook version  below

Object of the Month – June 2019

Did You Know?

The ‘cabbage white’ butterfly is actually two closely related species – the large white (Pieris brassicae) and the small white (Pieris rapae). Apart from the size difference, the large white has darker black wing spots, and a dark black band at the front of its wings. Both lay their eggs on cabbages in gardens, allotments and farms, as it is the preferred food of their caterpillars. The large white takes the outer leaves, while the small white prefers the soft inner leaves. The adult (imago) of both species often feeds on nectar from buddleia flowers.

Cabbage white butterflies “Insects Injurious to Vegetables”. SAFWM : 118007. © Saffron Walden Museum

The display has a male and female of each species, with the male at the top and female below. There is also a caterpillar of the large white butterfly, which is yellow and hairy, with black bumps on its skin. The small white’s caterpillar is pale green and hairless with a narrow yellow stripe on either side. The cabbage leaf in the box has some caterpillar feeding damage.

Caterpillar of the small white. CC BY-SA 3.0, Harald Süpfle.

Chrysalis of the small white. CC BY-SA 2.5, James Lindsey at Ecology of Commanster.

Life cycle

These butterflies have two ‘broods’ per year, and three in a good year. In the spring, butterflies which survived the winter as a chrysalis emerge as adults in April and May. They lay eggs in May and June (spring brood), which hatch into caterpillars in June and July. The caterpillars feed and grow quickly, and shed their skin 4 times as they grow. After about a month, the caterpillar finds a sheltered spot to transform into a butterfly in a process called metamorphosis. The caterpillar spins a pad of silk against the surface of its shelter, and sheds it skin again to reveal a hard skin (chrysalis), which has a small hook to keep it attached to the silk.

Adults emerge from the chrysalis about two weeks later, in July and August. They then lay eggs which develop into caterpillars through September and form chrysalises into October. The caterpillars go through a very slow metamorphosis to survive the winter, and emerge as adults the following April and May to start the process again.

Butterfly survival

On the right of the leaf are some cocoons and adults of a parasitic wasp which lays its eggs inside the caterpillars. After hatching, the wasp larvae feed on the caterpillar and eventually kill it, helping to control cabbage white numbers in a natural way. The adult wasp feeds on nectar.

Like many insects, these butterflies have declined in number recently. Currently, the large white and small white are not the focus of conservation efforts, but many other more specialist butterflies have declined severely or have gone extinct in Essex since 1900.
You can find out more about local butterflies in the Take Away the Walls exhibition at the Museum.

June’s Object of the Month was chosen by James Lumbard, Natural Sciences Officer.

Image credits

Pieris rapae caterpillar: James Lindsey at Ecology of Commanster [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)]. Accessed 11/06/2019.

Pieris rapae chrysalis: Harald Süpfle [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]. Accessed 11/06/2019

Parasitic wasp Cotesia glomerata: Copyright © Albert de Wilde – All rights reserved http://www.ahw.me/img/sluipwesp4mm_grootkoolwitje01b.html. Accessed 11/06/2019.

Featured Image – Cabbage whites “Insects Injurious to Vegetables” on display in the Museum © Saffron Walden Museum