A closer look at the National Collections

What a fascinating trip we MGAP volunteers had this week!

Thanks to the very kind folks at the National Museum Wales’s National Collection Centre in Nantgarw and our awesome project leader Al, who organised our ‘jolly’ [It was an educational visit, honest guv! – Al], a bunch of us were treated to a look at some of the objects most people don’t usually get to see.

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Part of the vehicle collection

First up we got a tour of the industry store by Carolyn Charles the Museum Registrar. A helicopter and push bikes, printing presses, railway signs and bricks, the variety of items was mind-boggling. I spotted an old agitator washing machine like the one my mother used when I was a kid and even older hand-turned mangles. There were huge pieces of architectural decoration that had been rescued from Cardiff’s Queen Street Station, and a fancy bird bath that presumably came from some posh estate. An old French cannon sat cheek by jowl with an enormous boulder that could only be coal – this is Wales after all!

These are items from the Welsh national industry collections. As you would expect, many are large and mechanical, some are in working order, others are undergoing or awaiting restoration. Most of these objects are ostensibly in storage, though some do get released for display in relevant exhibitions, both in Britain and abroad.

We were also treated to a talk by conservator Jennifer Griffiths, who’s in the process of restoring an old fish fryer dating from the early 1900s. De-greasing, de-rusting, dismantling, reassembling (the secret is to take lots of photos during the dismantling to make sure you can put your object back together again!), polishing – a conservator certainly needs a very broad skill set and a ton of patience to bring such old pieces back to life for the rest of us to admire and enjoy. Jennifer’s explanation of her work was fascinating and, hopefully, an incentive for some of our younger university-student volunteers who are still deciding on their career options.

The National Collections Centre is not open to the general public but they do offer a range of tours for groups as well as access to historians and researchers. You can read more about the centre, find their contact details and request a tour through the Collections Centre website.

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Thanks to Annie for writing the blog… read more of her words here!

Coed y Bedw Woodland Walk

On Saturday, members of the Mary Gillham Project, WTSWW and 15 others went for a wonderful wander awound Coed y Bedw Nature Reserve. Led by Miriam Adams, the volunteer warden from Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, we were introduced to the species and ongoing management for this woodland reserve.


In Coed y Bedw we found all kind of fascinating species, such as Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum – unusual to see as it usually sprouts in spring), a slime mould (pictured, probably Fuligo septica on Stereum Hirsutum) and a Porcelain Fungus (probably Oudemansiella mucida) just a few of the many species found. Thanks to Linda and Rob Nottage for identifying so many interesting fungi and spotting the Broad-leaved helleborine (Epipactis helleborine) in it’s natural habitat as opposed to where it was found during our previous Aliens Walk!

The woodland is also home to the famed Sir Attenborough’s tree, planted in 1985 by the great naturalist himself to mark the opening of the woodland as a Wildlife Trust reserve, an event which Mary also attended.

Sir Attenborough’s tree

Coed y Bedw Woodland was a very familiar scene for Mary, who would have walked the same path as we did, her home being very close the reserve. Mary also aided in funding for the purchase of this beautiful woodland so we still have much to thank her for.

Sign marking the opening of Coed y Bedw as a Nature Reserve, picture by Cliff Woodhead

In all, it was a splendid and excellent guided walk around the woodland reserve. The torrential rain held off just long enough until the end, so most of time it was somewhat sunny (being under the woodland canopy it was difficult to tell). There was certainly plenty of mud.

This is my first blog as the new placement student with the Mary Gillham Project, I hope you all enjoyed.

A big thanks to Miriam Adams, the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales and to everyone that attended to share their wildlife knowledge.


The Mary Gillham Archive Project is funded by HLF and managed by SEWBReC
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Aliens walk with the Cardiff Naturalists Society

‘Alien invaders’ is a phrase with many meanings… A plant, for example, can be an described as alien if it comes from a different country but it also can be invasive if it has popped up in a different habitat to its usual surroundings.

The area around docks are hotbeds for aliens. Historically, ships loaded with ballast would come to Cardiff docks to fill up with coal. This ballast, which would be soil or sand from their home ports, would be offloaded in Cardiff and eventually dumped or used to reclaim land. Transported within the ballast would be dormant seeds just itching for the right conditions to sprout into life.

A slight aside…
When is an alien no longer an alien? Many plants were brought over to Britain by the Romans and might well be considered natives now (although they may have been present pre-glacial times and brought back with the Romans…).


This is of course not a new phenomenon and the Cardiff Naturalists Society have a proud record of recording these incoming species with John Storrie writing about them in the Transactions of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society (Vol 8, p 743) in 1876 followed by a series of walks over the past 50 years looking at them in more detail. A number of these walks were led by Mary Gillham and Jeff Curtis and so we approached Jeff, and the Cardiff Nats to lead another walk in memory of Mary.

So, on Sunday 16th we set off around the Ely, Penarth moors and Grangemoor Park in search of plants that shouldn’t (ecologically speaking) be there. Plants like the large flowered evening primrose (Oenothera glazioviana) and Canadian fleabane (Erigeron canadensis) both which hail from America and the French Bartsia (Odontites jaubertianus) which, you guessed it, comes from mainland Europe.

Seeds can also be wind-blown, dog-dragged and bird-pooped to different areas enabling plants to translocate to ecologically or chemically similar environments outside of their traditional range or habitat. Which is why we found over 10 individual plants of broad-leaved helleborine (Epipactis helleborine), a denizen of woodland environments which has spread along fringes of Grangemoor Park.

Then of course you get those species that lived on site when the habitat was different but has somehow managed to survive the landscape changes such as this marsh woundwort (Stachys palustris) which is a remnant from when the habitat was a marshland – an alien in it’s own home!

IMG_3117 Marsh woundwort
Marsh woundwort

Along with the various aliens there was plenty of other wildlife on offer, including speckled wood, gatekeeper, ringlet and “white” butterflies, a cluster of cinnabar caterpillars as well as a pair of bullfinches.

Thanks muchly to Jeff and the Cardiff Naturalists Society and we’ll keep our eyes peeled for plants which look out of place…

Thanks to Annie for many of the pictures on this page…

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The Mary Gillham Archive Project is funded by HLF and managed by SEWBReC
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Women in the History of Natural Sciences conference

The Society for the History of Natural History recently organised a conference about Women in the History of Natural Sciences and so the Mary Gillham Archive Project just had to attend!


Split over two days between the University of Cumbria Ambleside Campus and the Freshwater Biological Association on the shores of Windermere the meeting was an opportunity to recognise the historical contributions of women to the earth and life sciences.

There were wide ranging talks about the role played by women such as Beatrix Potter, Margaret GattyRosemary Lowe -McConnellKathleen CarpenterKatherine Sophia BailyMargaret Cavendish BentinckMuriel Robertson and of course Mary Gillham. There were also subject themed talks about women as Natural History Artists and phycologists. Interspersed between these talks was a trip to the Armitt Museum – founded by Mary Louisa Armitt in 1909 and where Beatrix Potter bequeathed books, paintings, portfolios of natural history watercolours and personal copies of her “little books”.

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The conference was excellent and it was wonderful to hear the stories of so many important and ground-breaking women spanning hundreds of years.

Find out more about Kathleen Carpenter on this blog by a member of the Mary Gillham Archive Project Steering Group, Dr Catherine Duigan.

We’ll be writing up our work about Mary and hopefully getting it circulated through the Society.


The Mary Gillham Archive Project is funded by HLF and managed by SEWBReC
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Reptile Ramble at Parc Slip


On Wednesday, the Mary Gillham Project left the office for a day of exciting exploration at Parc Slip Nature Reserve, Bridgend. We were treated to a guided walk around the reserve with Lorna Baggett, from Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, specifically looking for reptiles.

Parc Slip has one hundred ‘reptile refugia’ across a large transect that act as a shelter to the reptiles, heating up in the sun to keep them warm. We were taken to each refugia, on the lookout for grass snakes, adders, common lizards and slow worms, where Lorna then carefully lifted up each one to (hopefully) reveal a reptile underneath.


The weather was drizzly, however the day was a success as we managed to find a few adders, grass snakes and multiple slow worms!  These refugia are part of an ongoing study to monitor the population of reptiles in the area; therefore each reptile found was recorded onto paper.

We also saw a few moths and a caterpillar, along with the stunning variety of flora that Parc Slip has to offer.

As many of you may know, Parc Slip is home to the Mary Gillham hide, and so after the ramble many of us continued on to spend some time observing birds, as well as the impressive landscape, from the hide. Here we were lucky to see Moorhen and Coot, as well as a few other species.

After an exciting few hours in the field, we retired to the lovely Wildlife Trust café for some hot drinks and food. Emotional farewells were exchanged as I have now come to the end of my placement year with the Mary Gillham Project; but this isn’t goodbye forever! I’ll definitely continue helping out with the project and will be keeping in touch with all the amazing people who have taught me so much this year.

Big thanks to Lorna and the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales for this exciting experience! Thank you Annie for all of these great images (see her blog here).

The Mary Gillham Archive Project is funded by HLF and managed by SEWBReC
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Wales Nature Week: Go Wild!

Blustery winds and a bit of rain definitely didn’t stop us from having a great time at Go Wild on Sunday. Last week was Wales Nature Week, so we headed to Parc Penallta (right next to Nelson’s bog) with SEWBReC for Go Wild; an all-day event run by Caerphilly council, aimed at educating the public about their local wildlife through various engaging information stalls and fun kids’ activities.

At the event we had a table displaying some of Mary’s field work and nature diaries, which helped us to teach people about Mary’s life and dedicated career in wildlife conservation. We also made sure to give out our Mary Gillham species identification sheets, which proved to be a big hit with the young wildlife recorders.

A wide variety of wildlife specimens were also showcased on the table, such as birds’ nests, mermaids’ purses, moth pupae and snakeskin, to name a few. A tank of crawling creatures was a popular attraction on our table as children tried to spot as many insects as they could among the wild flowers, including a bright pink and green, newly emerged elephant hawk moth.

There were four marquees full of various wildlife-related stalls, including the Colliery Spoil Biodiversity Initiative; providing information about the biodiversity on colliery spoil tips and showcasing insects in a coal tip tank, and Head4Arts; a community arts organisation raising awareness of endangered species in the UK through fun drawing and painting activities.

Children had plenty of extra entertainment; heaps of fun was had with a story-telling corner, a climbing wall, balloon modelling and a mini obstacle course. You could even get your face painted for free (which we did, of course!).

Stalls selling handmade crafts and locally sourced food items were also plentiful, so there was something there for everyone.

Overall we had a successful day sparking excitement in people of all ages about their local wildlife; something that Mary herself was very passionate about. Big thanks to George, one of our lovely volunteers, for filming us at the event; something we look forward to sharing with you all soon!

The Mary Gillham Archive Project is funded by HLF and managed by SEWBReC
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A tribute to Mary Gillham


During her lifetime Mary had a huge impact on the landscape around us; many of the nature reserves and green spaces we know today could be very different places had she not fought tirelessly for their protection and helped to raise awareness of their natural value.

The hard work Mary has provided to our communities did not go unnoticed! As a continuing supporter of the Wildlife Trusts throughout her life, Mary was honoured with a bird hide at Parc Slip. Established in Mary’s name, the hide is a celebration of her enthusiasm for the natural world and dedication to sharing her wealth of knowledge about our local wildlife with everyone around her.

Another bird hide was constructed at Forest Farm to commemorate Mary and her lifetime of work and support for the nature reserve. The surrounding meadows, filled with colourful wild flowers and apple trees, were named the ‘Mary Gillham fields’.

(Thanks to Cliff Woodhead for the lovely photos of the Mary Gillham hide and fields at Forest Farm).

Hopefully for many years to come people will continue to remember Mary when visiting these hides, within the natural environments that she cared for dearly, and feel inspired to follow in her footsteps. Two fitting tributes to a very deserving botanist and zoologist!

If you pay a visit to Gwaelod-y-Garth (home to Mary’s beloved old cottage) you’ll find a lovely memorial bench dedicated to Mary at the entrance to the Lan mine, by Coed Rhiw’r Ceiliog woodland. Mary was an avid recorder of wildlife in this area and as a conscientious botanist she conducted botanical surveys across many areas in South Wales, including those close to her home. Mary adored her home here in Gwaelod and so her ashes were also spread over the beloved Garth hill.

(Thanks to Norma Procter for these great images of the Mary Gillham memorial bench).

Those who venture into this woodland can admire the vast floral diversity that was once surveyed by Mary herself. As a lovely scenic location for a tribute to Mary’s hard work, it will hopefully inspire a new generation of botanists.

The memorial bench was constructed by the people of The Lan Film Project; a project creating a film based on Norma Procter’s novel on the tragic Lan Colliery disaster of 1875.

Take a look at the making of the Mary Gillham bench via this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEwJIMO0i5E

During her lifetime Mary reached thousands of people during her lectures, guided walks and study tours, and through her positions within the Ecological community. As a devoted president of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society, her contribution to the society as well as her eagerness to help others learn about their local natural history will never be forgotten.

Keep your eyes open for an exhibition run by the society called ‘Cardiff Naturalists’ Society: The first 150 years!’ from September 4th to November 26th 2017. As a celebration of their 150th anniversary it will demonstrate the history of the society and will feature an interesting piece on Mary Gillham herself!

For more info about the exhibition and another event celebrating the 150th anniversary of Cardiff Naturalists’ Society (‘An evening with Iolo Williams’) see the society’s website: http://cardiffnaturalists.blogspot.co.uk/

All of these tributes are thoughtful celebrations of Mary’s life and achievements; why not pay a visit to see some of them yourself? In memory of a dedicated naturalist.

Walking in the Footsteps of Mary: May, Forest Farm, Cardiff

In this series we provide you with details of surveys Mary (and her colleagues) undertook, the species she recorded, and encourage you to visit sites and record what you can see. This month we’re within Cardiff’s and alongside the River Taff and Glamorganishire Canal at Forest Farm

The Carpark can be found at: ST13828054, with entrances at: ST132814, ST135807 and ST143803.

The long history of Forest Farm, the Glamorganshire Canal and Long Wood is described img_20170207_0009in Mary’s ‘Natural History of Cardiff’ book. From being an important thoroughfare for industry (by rail and canal) and being bisected by the new M4, Cardiff City Council with the help of groups such as the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society, Glamorgan Naturalists’ Trust, and Friends of Forest Farm, have managed to retain some of the historical features such as the Melingruffydd sluice and water wheel while managing the nature and habitats in way which supports a great diversity of wildlife.

Included below is a list of species Mary and colleagues recorded over a 40 year period, comprising over 700 species!

Species List

The species were recorded and identified by a number of people including Mike Wiley, Idris Bowen; A.D. Tipper; Adrian Amsden; Mike Claridge; W Mapleson; A Pearcy; R. Jones; Amy Heathcote; M. Sutherland, Mary Thelwall, Linda Nottage, Ted Edwards, Phil Bristow, Mark Jervis and members of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society, Glamorgan Naturalists’ Trust, and Friends of Forest Farm (http://forestfarm.org.uk/).

Mary’s found Forest Farm soon after arriving in Cardiff and remained fond of it throughout her life. She wrote the paper on the biological value of the reserve in 1967 (written during the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society centenary – they will be 150 this year!) and continued to contribute to the Friends of Forest Farm newsletter well into the 2000s.

Listen to the introduction of ‘A New Nature Reserve’ here:

Have a look at some of Mary’s pictures from Forest Farm and see how the landscape has changed with our ‘Then and Now’ photos.

picture1Take a look out our downloadable resources beginners recording!


Submit your records at www.sewbrecord.org.uk/Mary_Gillham or send them in a spreadsheet to dedicated.naturalist@sewbrec.org.uk. You can download a template spreadsheet from the Walks with Mary Gillham page on the SEWBReC website: www.sewbrec.org.uk/a-dedicated-naturalist/walks-with-mary.page.


Notes about Walks with Mary Gillham:

  • Please take a common sense approach to recording at these sites. We do not advocate any form of trespassing, and please do not take any risks with regards to your own health and safety.
  • All records are welcome, even the most common of species!
  • For a record to be useful, we need the following information: recorder’s name; date recorded; location name; grid reference (ideally 6 figures or more); species name. Please feel free to include extra information or photos.


The Mary Gillham Archive Project is funded by HLF and managed by SEWBReC
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Young Mary

Some days are just good days.

Last week I spent a really enjoyable day in the company of Mary’s cousin Stella and goddaughter (Mary’s other cousin’s daughter) Rosemary.

While we have spent many, many hours working with Mary’s notes and diaries this was our first opportunity to speak to someone who know Mary in her earlier years. Stella’s and Mary’s family were close and spent their family holidays together – usually pioneering a rarely practiced form of holiday called camping.

Despite living in the middle of London Mary and Stella’s families spent lots of time in the countryside and enabled Mary to develop her passion for identifying and describing what she saw there. Rosemary remembers being captivated by the stories and slideshows that Mary gave in the years following her international travels which were especially impressive at an age when the world was much larger than it appears today.

Learning about Mary’s life from Stella and Rosemary was incredibly useful and informative and really helps us to understand the roots of Mary’s environmental passions. Similarly, as Mary separated her work and family life, we were able to tell some tales about Mary which they hadn’t heard themselves.

Before setting sail to New Zealand, 1957

Another exciting – yet slightly overwhelming – outcome from our meeting was receiving all of Mary’s international travel slides – some 15 000 of them and the notes that explain them. We also got the autobiographical notes that Mary was making during the final years of her life and an audio reel of a lecture she delivered in 1975.

Now, with 9 months remaining on the project we have an exciting – if busy – time ahead of us!



Daerwynno Bio-Bingo

BSW17RGBHI_APINK-920x591Yesterday was our British Science Week event at the Daerwynno Outdoor Centre – and what a fun day it was too! British Science Week is a celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths and so we took the opportunity to share our passion for wildlife.

School children from Perthcelyn Community Primary School, Abercynon community primary school and a group from Gofal joined the Mary Gillham Project, SEWBReC, the Colliery Spoil Biodiversity Initiative and Glamorgan Fungus Group on a mission to explore some of the wildlife found around the Activity Centre.

IMG_1510We went and explored the pond where frogs had spawned and we also found newts, beetles, nymphs and snails. Beneath logs and stones were an assortment of centipedes, Granny Grey’s [woodlice], slugs, pupae, eggs and other minibeasts.

Back inside in the ‘laboratory’ we looked at some of our finds under a microscope which we also projected onto a big screen, we looked at the natural history collection of snake skins, exuvia, shells, mermaid’s purses, nuts and skeletons. A varied day indeed!

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Thank you to all of the participants as well as all of the the staff and volunteers from each of the organisations – together you made the day one to remember.

Watch a video of the event below!

British Science Week is a project of the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the British Science Association

The Mary Gillham Archive Project is funded by HLF and managed by SEWBReC
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