Posted by: henrymcghie | April 10, 2016

Dear diary

I had a very varied week, spending Monday at Martin Mere with first year BSc zoology students from the University of Manchester. This was part of a field course where they visit local wildlife sites to develop scientific skills. Martin Mere is a Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust site near Ormskirk in Lancashire. The mere was the largest lake in England (although very shallow) before it was drained in the 18th century. It is a major reserve for a variety of Whooper Swans and Pinkfoot Geese (from Iceland), as well as many species of ducks. In the summer the shallow lakes, reed beds and adjacent farmland are home to many Black-headed Gulls, Marsh Harriers, Lapwings and Snipe. We had a presentation from a member of staff on the history of the site, and how it was drained in the 18th century, before being restored to some extent towards the end of the 20th century.

We showed the students how to identify birds, then had a practice at this in the hides. We walked through the terrific world wildfowl collection, seeing many interesting species. I love the Hooded Mergansers (colourful American ducks), and these were in full display. Students spent the afternoon on projects, making behavioural observations of Chilean and Greater Flamingos, Tree Sparrows (they were a bit hard to see) and the mergansers. The students will contribute to the Museum’s thematic collecting project by sending me photos and thoughts on the themes of migration and water, which connected very well with Martin Mere.

Tuesday and Wednesday were spent in a workshop at London Zoo led by the Public Interest Research Centre, as part of the Framing Nature project. This was excellent, and helped us explore the stories that we tell about nature in our organisations, assumptions we hold, and the importance of using language and imagery that helps inspire people, rather than depress them.

Thursday and Friday were more typical, involving lots of work on Climate Control, which is shaping up to be fantastic. We are into the production phase of this now, with technicians making plinths and cases for the specimens that will go on display. We have commissioned a great sphere of artificial Peppered Moths to hang in our Living Worlds gallery, and fine-tuned some of the details of the moths this week. We have now pretty well signed off the marketing posters for the exhibition, again based on the story of the Peppered Moth.

I wrote an article for the Museums Journal on my views on what museums ‘should’ be doing about climate change, and wrote another piece for the Museums and Climate Change network, which I’ve signed the Museum up to.

As a result of Climate Control, I’m exploring the idea of a project around Manchester and Salford’s nature. I had thought of revisiting the collections we have from the river Irwell, which separates Manchester and Salford, as the basis of the project. I had to rethink this as it turns out we have almost nothing from the river, presumably because it was so terribly polluted in the 19th and 20th centuries before being cleaned up. I’m interested in finding partners who can contribute images and stories about the river, which we’ll archive. The idea came from reading a book called ‘The Dark River’ by Cyril Bracegirdle (what a great name!), a history of the Irwell.

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