Posted by: henrymcghie | March 29, 2014

Using nature as your friend

Originally posted on Liberated Way:

You can turn nature to your advantage.
Bees have hidden advantages of providing a natural biological barrier to large animals such as elephants.

Bees have hidden advantages of providing a natural biological barrier to large animals such as elephants.

I now define sustainability as “action in harmony with nature.”  This definition of sustainability I use in forming policy and procedure in running my business.  I attempt to integrate sustainability into the core of my business, and to a certain extent into my life.

I consider that for every challenge a solution is found in nature.  All action can incorporate nature in the solution.  I offer an example of a challenge that farmers face with wild elephants who destroy home, crop and life.  The usual solution against an elephant that is destroying life, employment and home is to shoot it dead.

The sustainable solution is find an answer in nature that allows an elephant its life but protects the farmer from a rampaging elephant.  An article…

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Hello- I came across a great definition recently, that ‘inspiration is the feeling that motivates people to do something’. I love this, and have been thinking about it in relation to one of my main bits of work- which is looking at how natural history museums can effectively engage people with their environment, and support them to get more active (intellectually, physically, emotionally, even politically) with the environment.

I’d be very interested to hear anyone’s thoughts on how museums can connect with the feelings that people hold about nature. Whether it is your fondest memory, an extraordinary experience, thinking about a small thing differently, sharing stories, or anything else, please let me know.



Posted by: henrymcghie | March 20, 2014

Nature and museums

Hello- I’m in Oslo this week, talking at two seminars at the University on museums and nature. The first talk was on natural history museums, social responsibility and the natural environment. There has been a bit of questioning in the UK as to whether museums should be campaigning to support and protect the environment. This seems like a real no-brainer to me, as museums should be using their collections to engage people with objects and ideas about the world around them. It’s too easy for museums to become ‘a nice afternoon out’- if people are looking for more than that, we should be able to support them with their interests.

The second talk was on some of the ways that we have been rethinking natural history/natural sciences (or whatever you want to call it) in Manchester Museum. We’ve been very fortunate to secure funding recently for two major galleries (Living Worlds, 2011, Nature’s Library, 2013), refurbishment of a third (the Vivarium) and are currently working on a fourth (The Study). We’ve had an allotment, adult training course in wildlife recording, temporary exhibitions (with another coming soon in April) and more besides. My own interest lies in looking at how museums can articulate/rearticulate the messages they give out about people and nature, in order to better engage people with the world around them.


From the Natural Sciences Collection Association blog:

Originally posted on NatSCA:

MAconf2013I attended November’s Museums Association conference in Liverpool to talk, for NatSCA, on how having a natural science curator in your midst will help your museum to be greener. The session I was involved in, ‘Dead Zoos’, looked at addressing environmental issues from the natural science collection viewpoint.

Both Darren Mann and Henry McGhie spoke eloquently and sensibly about our unique position as natural scientists. We can engage all walks of life with nature and, as a consequence, we can also instil a sense of protectiveness. This, of course, includes caring about our changing climate.

I’ve heard him speak about this before but Henry’s admiration of the RSPB’s ‘giving nature a home’ campaign is always thought-provoking. The RSPB have set out to give people a framework for helping nature directly, and the public have responded.

Several of the questions from the floor asked for practical help in using their…

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Posted by: Rachel | October 4, 2013

Tree sample collecting day, October 3rd 2013.

Originally posted on Herbology Manchester:

Hello! My name is Josh and I am new to the herbarium. I am a member of the faculty of life sciences at the University of Manchester, and for the work placement part of my degree it is my pleasure to spend a year working in the herbarium with Rachel and Lindsey . This is only my first week but we’ve already been busy collecting lots of tree samples from the array of trees we have on campus. Henry McGhie, Dr Webster and I started out by recording the geographic location of each tree we sampled, measured the girth of each tree’s main trunk and took small clippings of the leaves (and fruits in some cases!) Samples included the tulip tree, genus Liriodendron. The British crab apple tree, family Rosaceae and the Willow tree Salix.




Image Henry valiantly trying to experience the fruitful delights of the Crab Apple.




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Posted by: henrymcghie | September 20, 2013

Recent nature-themed events

Hello- we’ve had quite a few nature-themed events lately. A few weeks back we had the Festival of Nature in Heaton Park, part of the BBC Summer of Wildlife. There were about 2,000 people there and fortunately the weather held pretty well. The best bit for me was the falconry, where the falconer flew a Barn Owl over the heads of a row of crouching children. The local bat group even had a selection of live bats that people could see. It was great  to see so many people, with very different interests, together in the park, celebrating (consciously or not) the human connection with nature.

I took part in a very different event yesterday, as part of the University of Manchester Welcome Week. About 40 Faculty of Life Sciences staff and students surveyed the quad in one of their fairly new buildings, the Michael Smith Building. Although the quad is a very well visited part of the department, no-one had noticed frogs there before, and we found four great big ones. There was an amazing array of wildlife in the pond, including dragonfly and mayfly larvae. The rosemary bush is badly eaten by the Rosemary Beetle, which I only heard of recently. The records of the species seen were submitted onto RODIS, a computer programme that sends the records to the Local Records Centre for posterity.

Posted by: henrymcghie | September 6, 2013

Manchester’s Festival of Nature- tomorrow in Heaton Park

Hello- if you find yourself at a loose end tomorrow afternoon, there is an event in Heaton Park that we have helped to organise. This is Manchester’s Festival of Nature, part of the BBC Summer of Wildlife. There are moth and bat walks this evening, then bird counting early tomorrow, and a lot of events in the afternoon.

Among the stallholders are the Friends of Blackley Forest, Friends of the Earth, the Local Records Centre (our partners), Withington Hedgehog Care Trust, FLS, Uni Environmental Sustainability Team, RSPB, Red Rose, South Lancs Bat Group, Three Bees, and more. We will all be inside, so should stay dry.

I hope to see some of you there.

Posted by: henrymcghie | September 4, 2013

Poetic Neandertals

Not to do with sustainability this time, but very interesting and I thought I’d share it. I read a really fascinating account of the discovery of the first Neandertal skull in Germany in 1856. The valley in which the remains were found was named the Neander Tal (Valley). This in turn was named after a 17th century German pastor. His original name was Joachim Neumann. He converted his name into classical Greek, to become ‘Neander’, or ‘new man’. So, the discovery of a ‘new man’ was made in the valley of the same name. Very poetic.

Posted by: henrymcghie | September 3, 2013

Museums and environmental sustainability

There’s a good piece in this month’s Museums Journal about museums and environmental sustainability. Museums are cautious about the extent which they tell people what to think, and quite rightly. However, there are some things that we do know: many species are declining, habitats are being used unsustainably, people and their environment are often not working in harmony with one another. Museums with natural history collection use their collections to explore ideas around themes of nature and of nature and people. To me, these kinds of museum have to engage with environmental sustainability. If they don’t, it’s like having a collection of Impressionist paintings and not talking about paint. Or a course on Physical Geography that doesn’t talk about mountains. Of course, museums need to be careful about how they work with their visitors- they should be about influence, not manipulation. If museums are clear about who they are, and what they stand for, then people can be clear about who they are working with. As the UK Code of Ethics for Museums says, museums

“Support the protection of natural and human environments
8.0 Collections in museums represent the rich diversity of the world’s natural and human environments.
Museums promote learning without jeopardising this diversity. They contribute to sustainable economic activity and benefit local and wider communities.

All those who work for or govern museums should ensure that they:
8.1 Value and protect natural and human environments. Prevent abuse of places of scientific, historic or cultural importance. Exercise due diligence procedures when acquiring or borrowing items. Uphold appropriate national and international conventions and treaties on protection of natural and human environments, whether or not they have been ratified. (See section 5, acquire items honestly and responsibly.)

8.2 Be sensitive to the impact of the museum and its visitors on natural and human environments. Make best use of resources, use energy and materials responsibly and minimise waste.

8.3 Contribute to the sustainable social and material vitality of the museum’s surrounding area by, for example, attracting users, sustaining economic activity, offering satisfying and rewarding employment and pursuing local purchasing policies.

8.4 Develop purchasing and resale policies that address environmental and human rights’ issues.

8.5 Make all growth sustainable. Evaluate the long-term impact of introducing, operating and maintaining new developments.”

There is a great deal of sense here, and I think it’s a good standard to follow.

Posted by: henrymcghie | August 30, 2013

Lichens urban naturalist

Urban Naturalist Saturday 31 August, 2-4pm
When the industrial revolution hit Manchester, the negative environmental effects meant that many of the Lichen species died out. This was because they could not survive in the heavily polluted air. Lichens are a symbiotic relationship formed from Alga and Fungi, now we can see their return to the streets of Manchester as a great sign of the improvements to our air quality! Join artist Jo Keogh in the Herbarium to wonder at the fantastic collection, share her enthusiasm with Lichens and the importance of collecting and preserving samples.
Book on 0161 275 2648 or, £3
If you can’t make this, there are lichens on display in ‘Nature’s Library’, above Living Worlds.

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