Back in May, the Biodiversity Gardens Project braved the relentless sun and headed out into the depths of central London, armed with a bag of compost and some kidney vetch. We scaled the high steps of platform 1 before boarding the Victoria bound train and descending into the underground. Strangely enough we saw no earthworms or beetles here, only crowds of tourists who were looking far too awake and eager for early on a Sunday morning.
Our destination? The Natural History Museum, and it was already looking rather busy with a long queue of budding naturalists, some anxiously peering up the queue while the younger visitors pulled at their leads in anticipation of what was in store; or at least the promise of air-conditioning. After some nifty detective work, we navigated our way to our stall and were pleasantly surprised. A lovely big poster board and table marked our territory for the day and they had also provided us with the luxury of 2 whole chairs. However, we were in a conquering mood and laid claim to the patch of concrete beyond our stall with a cleverly placed rug.
Now for the real work…or so we thought. Despite the growing crowd, it was a slow start which afforded us the time to scout around the other stalls and meet faces, old and new. We were really pleased to meet several individuals in person for whom we had previously been limited to electronic communications. Some of the best exhibits were perhaps the most unlikely; microscopes and rather morbidly pinned beetles and bugs were far more effective at enticing over children than the temptation of sweets and chocolate.
Our own activity employed the power of dirt and it soon won over a group of young naturalists, armed with some rather dashing plastic safari hats. And so it began. Around 60 pots of Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria) were planted, although a few were reluctantly with-held from some of our air-bound visitors.
We would like to send a huge thank you to the Natural History Museum for hosting such an enjoyable event and look forward to working with you again in the future! London is a confusing place for an ecologist so events like these are essential for strengthening the bonds between veterans and newbie’s alike. The more unfortunate members of our group may sport a sun burn that could make a lobster blush, but my, did we have fun.


The threat of rain loomed over the weekend but we were not deterred and started off with a flurry of activity as our volunteers worked hard to preparing each hub for the days events. The lawn was transformed into the main Hub which we nick-named the Ruby Zone.  Here you could find information about the project, as well as exhibits from Beddington Farm Birds Group, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and the Amateur Entomologists Society. Their stick-insects soon became a favourite in the afternoon as everyone wanted a chance to handle them! iSpot were also on hand to upload photos of any finds for help with identification. Throughout the day there was also face-painting and guided walks of the Ecology Centre, that began in the Ruby Hub.
Moving further into the Ecology Centre grounds, visitors found the Aqua Zone where they could meet barn owls, kestrels and other species with Henfold Birds of Prey, or try their hand at pond-dipping and wildlife art. This hub was by far the most popular, and was also the location of two interpretive bird dances that were very well received by younger and older visitors alike!
Next came the Jade Zone where visitors could try their hand at sweep nets and plant their own Kidney Vetch seedlings. Despite the clouds, we found several species of butterflies and hoverflies, eagerly collected by our volunteers and visitors, and the meadow was in full flower with a fantastic range of native wildflower species.  Just round the corner was the Amber Zone, the home of all our mini-beasts. Here, there was a busy schedule of events including creepy crawly pizzas, mini-beast hunt and spider safaris, the latter led by Tom Thomas from the British Naturalists Society.
Throughout the day the weather became sunnier and the grounds were filled with visitors by mid-afternoon. The public events took a temporary hiatus at 4pm so that the volunteers and exhibitors could relax with a BBQ in the grounds before the evening activities, which kicked off with small mammal and pitfall traps at 8pm. This was followed by activities led by Derek Coleman, including the setting up of moth traps for the morning, and a bat walk around the grounds where we saw and heard Pipistrelles darting overhead. When the sun finally set over the Ecology Centre grounds, the sky was clear and the wind barely noticeable, giving us a perfect end to the evening.
Sunday morning events resumed bright and early in the Ruby Hub with the moth-traps at 7am where we caught a fine example of a Poplar Hawk Moth. Following this we inspected our small mammal bait traps from the night before. Sadly, most had been dug up by one of our resident Foxes and the few that remained had been visited by slugs. Not to worry though as we had plenty to occupy ourselves with as the main event got going: wild arts, crafts and worm charming! We also had a few last frantic hours to tally up all of our species. Results were announced mid-day and we were excited to reach far beyond our estimate of 200 with a whopping 308 species!
A huge thank-you to everyone that attended and help collate these valuable species records! We hope to see you all next year!

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