As I was nearby at Belgrave, I decided to pop in to Abbey Pumping Station which is Leicester’s museum of science and technology. Much of the museum focuses on sewage and its treatment, with other displays on transport, typewriters and computers and film and cinema. Sadly not a lot that I could link to ‘climate change’ other than the obvious connection with rainfall and water and the increasing demands on and control of the water supply. One information board did show a frozen fountain in the Town Hall Square in Leicester during a harsh winter.
This morning I visited Belgrave Hall and gardens in Leicestershire to meet with Gardens Officer Val Hartley. The house was built in 1707 and was a family home until 1936, passing through 5 families. It became a museum in 1937 and is laid out as it would have been in Victorian times during the Ellis family’s residency. The house has a large walled garden with several glasshouses. Val was able to show me temperature records kept for the glasshouses from 1999 (although these are not continuous). Checking the temperatures in the glasshouses daily is good practice to ensure that the boilers are working properly. Obviously these are records show artificially created temperatures but may still be able to tell us something about changing climates (an outside temperature is also usually recorded). So, another example of museums actively collecting data rather than objects…
Val pointed out some relatively recent tropical additions to the garden (kiwi, olive etc), perhaps showing that conditions in Britain are becoming increasingly suitable to these plants, but also showed me some exotics (for example the pomegranate) that have been growing well at Belgrave for hundreds of years, undoubtedly aided by the garden’s sheltered position and high walls, showing perhaps a consistency in climate.
William Boyd Dawkins (my character guide for the ‘Ice Age Tour’ at Creswell Crags) was a geologist and palaeontologist. He studied at Oxford where he became interested in human pre-history and the age of the earth, particularly in the survival of human implements. He soon turned his attention to cave research, excavating a hyena den at Wookey Hole, Somerset. Between 1861-1869 he was a member of the Geological Survey of Britain and became a colleague of Thomas Henry Huxley at the Royal School of Mines. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1867. He later became Curator of Natural History at the old Manchester Museum. He worked at Creswell between 1875-1878. After the 1870s he was increasingly drawn to more applied geology, becoming an advisor to one of the pioneering attempts to create a Channel Tunnel. In 1890 he discovered the Kent Coalfield. As a museum Curator he organised free public lectures at the weekends. He left his books and many papers to the town of Buxton, which later created a ‘Boyd Dawkins’ room at its museum. (Information from ODNB).
Today I’ve been to Creswell Crags to explore the ice age collections!
The main exhibition space contains many objects discovered by archaeologists at Creswell. These fall into two types: animal bones and teeth, and stone and bone tools created by the different groups of human visitors to Creswell over 50,000 years. It was fascinating to learn about the exotic animals (hippopotamus, hyena, lion, bison etc) that inhabited Creswell thousands of years ago, and to see how Neanderthal man developed strategies of managing the cold climate, the caves at Creswell Crags providing much needed shelter for man and animal.
Climate change is very much the focus of both the gallery displays and the cave tours (I went on the ‘Ice Age Tour’ led by Victorian archaeologist William Boyd Dawkins), but this is climate change operating over a long historical time period owing to fluctuations in the Earth’s orbit, rather than a concern with anthropogenic induced climate change in recent years. It will be interesting to see how I can fit these museum objects telling stories about the natural cycles of climate variability to ones speculating about human induced climatic change during more recent years.
On Friday I returned to Wollaton Hall to collect some information from Sheila (Keeper of Biology), and to meet Dave, the Botanical Recorder for Nottinghamshire who has been recording the distribution of plants in the county for forty years.
Sheila provided me with some information from her own database of recorded moth sightings, picking out a number of moths which are new to Nottinghamshire, the UK distribution of which may be being influenced by climatic change (although habitat changes may be far more influential). These include the Privet Hawk-moth, Pine Hawk-moth and Pale Pinion. I’m hoping to do some more research on these species and to get in touch with groups like Butterfly Conservation. Coincidently today marks the start of the Big Butterfly Count, a new nationwide survey of butterflies http://www.bigbutterflycount.org/
Dave identified some plant species which appear to moving north-west, increasing their distribution in the county, possibly as the climate warms (Bristly Ox-Tongue, Soft-Shied Fern, Prickly lettuce and Great Lettuce). Dave also pointed me towards the distribution maps available on the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI) atlas (http://www.bsbimaps.org.uk/atlas/main.php). The Nottinghamshire Biological and Geological Records Centre (based at Wollaton Hall) also holds a number of historical flora of Nottinghamshire by Deering (1738), Ordoyno (1807), Howitt (1839) and Carr (manuscript), but it would be very difficult to draw make any reliable comparisons owing to the use of poorly defined classifications like ‘rare’ and ‘frequent’, and the differing forms and frequency of surveys. Other counties in the region hold similar records, and there are other interest groups like the nottingham bird-watchers who I am intending to get in touch with.
This visit showed how contemporary collections focus far more on data as opposed to specimen collection. This is something that I would like to follow up, thinking about how these new collections of data might be presented in the museum.
Today I visited Wollaton Hall in Nottingham. The Hall is home to Nottingham Natural History Museum. I met with Keeper of Biology Sheila Wright, who gave me a tour of the collections and offered her thoughts on the topic of climate change as it relates to natural history, particularly relating to the changing distribution of moths and butterflies in recent decades. Sheila has identified a number of moths from her own records that may be spreading north, possibly as a result of global warming. However habitat destruction and fragmentation are likely to be far more important factors. I’m now intending to contact Nottingham and Derby Entomological Society, the local branch of Butterfly Conservation and the Mammal Society, as well as returning to Wollaton to meet with the Botanical Recorder for Nottinghamshire.
In terms of the museum collections housed at Wollaton there are very few links drawn with climatic change. All of the insect collections date from the 1920s and 1930s, but there is no continuous record, and many are from outside the region. The galleries house many extinct species, but the majority were hunted to extinction rather than dying out as a result of climatic change. However, as the world’s ecosystems become more fragile as a result of changing environmental conditions, museums like Wollaton become important preservers of many species. Wollaton is home to a number of fossil remains dating from the ice age, many of which would have been found in the East Midlands region. I hope to follow up this area of investigation with a trip to Creswell Crags soon!
On Friday I met up with Cynthia and David, the other MuBu bursary holders (‘MuBu food’ and ‘MuBu miner’) in Nottingham. We discussed our activities to date, and shared ideas and individual hopes for outcomes of the project.
It seemed like many of the uncertainties we had were shared, mainly relating to making the projects manageable!
We provisionally decided to meet up again in Leicester and perhaps visit a museum at the same time. In the meantime we’ll be eagerly following each others blogs!
On Thursday (also St. Swithin’s Day) I visited Flintham Museum in Nottinghamshire.
From 1911-1982 Fred White and his daughter Muriel ran the village shop at Flintham. Every day that they opened (not on Sundays), they recorded their thoughts about the day’s weather as well as making a note of the shop takings. The weather had the potential to ruin stock and often influenced customer buying patterns.
The old stock and paperwork rescued from the shop now forms the displays of Flintham Museum. Visitors can compare the weather on the day of their visit with that on the same day in 1912, 1922, 1932, 1942, 1952 and 1962.
The museum’s latest addition is a weather station in the garden where visitors can take recordings of temperature, pressure, wind direction and rainfall, forming a contemporary weather diary.
The visit to Flintham was really inspiring and generated lots of new ideas for the project, thanks Sue!
Today I attended the East Midlands Museum Service (EMMS) Practitioners Panel meeting at Melton Carnegie Museum in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. This was a great opportunity for me to promote the climate change project and to meet museum representatives from the East Midlands region. Several people showed an interest in my project, and I now have an extended list of people to contact!
The museum in Melton has just had a new extension built, greatly expanding the exhibition space. The aim is to create a community gallery which focuses on Melton borough (town and country) and its people. Jenny Dancey from the museum is keen for the displays to tackle current issues of the day including climate change and most interesting to me is the planned inclusion of a number of historical and contemporary weather diaries! I hope to feature these in my ‘object(s) of the week’ slot soon so won’t give too much away here.
I also now have a couple of photos to kick off my flickr collection and photo map. It has been quite a productive day as I have managed to arrange visits to Belgrave Hall and Wollaton Hall for the week after next so things are starting to happen!