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What we do in life…


Ignition in Greater Manchester

Green wall with biodiversity enhancing planting © Matthew O’Donnell

The University of Salford’s Living Lab is a fantastic example of an urban green space. Launched in June 2021, this transformation has taken shape under the cloud of the pandemic, turning a somewhat unassuming site into a marvellous and thriving ecosystem in the heart of Greater Manchester. Through combining technology and nature in really innovative ways, Salford University has bloomed into life becoming a living model to measure the impact of works of this kind. The Living Lab, however, is only one component of a large ambitious new initiative led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, the Ignition Project.

The Ignition Project, announced in March 2019, looked to nature to provide answers to the complex questions that socio-environmental pressures present in urban environments around the world. Nature Based Solutions (NBS), work with the environment rather than against it, harnessing the power of the natural world to help mitigate some of the issues that our ever-changing climate and societal structure present.

Sustainable drainage trees at the University of Salford © Matthew O’Donnell

In recent years problems such as flooding, air pollution and over-heating have become increasingly common across Greater Manchester. Historic land clearance and development stretching back to the industrial revolution and continuing to the present day has left us with a legacy of concrete jungles, large areas devoid of green spaces that have exacerbated these issues. GMCA identified the dire need to tackle these problems head on; not only to tackle the looming climate crisis, but also to provide opportunities for people living and working within the combined authority to enjoy the health and wellbeing benefits that green spaces deliver.

This project is backed by a £4.5 million investment from the EU’s Urban Innovation Actions (UIA) initiative and comprised of 12 partners including the University of Manchester, local government, NGOs and business. The Ignition Project has aimed to facilitate the funding of model NBS such as rain gardens, street trees, green roofs and walls. Through its use of modern technology and novel funding methods, whilst measuring impact and lessons learnt, this is far more than an attempt to green wash urban spaces.

Rain garden at Salford University © Matthew O’Donnell

My personal experience of working in the Cockcroft laboratory, before and since the installation of the Living lab infrastructure, has been significantly improved. The planting around the outside of the building has already transformed the space that is now teeming with an array of wildlife. Lunch and tea breaks are now something to cherish; enjoying the sight and smells of biodiversity on my doorstep. The pandemic and associated lockdowns rekindled our collective appreciation of wildlife, walks and the natural world in many ways. It is encouraging to see projects such as Ignition that will help to blend this appreciation, its value to society and combatting climate impacts into our urban environments.

As COP26 in Glasgow gets underway, it is more important than ever to celebrate the positive and successful applications of NBS to illustrate ways of tackling the climate crisis head on.

COP21 – the time is now

All about otters!

Whilst working with a pair of Asian small clawed otters (Aonyx cinereus) for four years previous to my work here at the vivarium, I developed a keen interest and a soft spot for the species, so when at the start of the year I came across an opportunity to get involved with the work of the IUCN/SSC Otter Specialist Group I grabbed it, and have since been a part of a team of volunteers helping to produce content for their Facebook and Instagram pages.

The Otter Specialist Group (OSG) is part of the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The objective of the group is to coordinate and bring together researchers all over the world to promote global otter conservation.

Source: Mersey Rivers Trust

Like amphibians, otters are present in almost every continent and are also at high risk of extinction, some species more than others. Only 50 years ago, the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra), Britain’s only species of otter, came close to extinction and although faring better than many other species of otter, they are still classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN today, and although a rare sight, an otter was spotted in the River Irwell in Salford last year!

The OSG are working to make news and information readily available regarding global otter situations through their Facebook page, Instagram feed and website. We like to have a little fun too! On our Instagram feed, we celebrate otters, championing individuals, organisations and even whole countries that succeed in aiding otter conservation, research and education.

We explore the presence of otters in folklore, art and literature, and share sightings of wild otters across the world, so there’s something to interest, educate and entertain everyone! If you don’t love and appreciate otters already, you will after exploring the below links:

OSG Instagram


OSG Facebook

Call of the Wild

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How can listening to the sounds of nature be a way of sharing and developing our understanding of biodiversity and conservation?

A partnership between Cucusonic https://cucusonic.net/cucusonic a collective of Colombian biological scientists, anthropologists and musicians, the University of Manchester’s Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology and the charity In Place of War is aiming to do just that. The project and network was formed to record a bank of natural and bioacoustic sound recordings from the Neotropical forests of Colombia which were then shared with a team of internationally renowned electronic music producers who were invited to create incredible new music. A resulting new album has been produced and is being released any day now on 31st October from The Vinyl Factory https://thevinylfactory.com

The album features artists, including Bræv, Brian Eno, Coldcut, Fer Isella, Fingathing, Iggor Cavalera, Kate Simko, Laima Leyton, Martyn Ware, Matthew Dear, Mexican Institute of Sound and Osunlade

Call of the Wild: A collaborative project for understanding Biodiversity in Colombia through recording natural sounds and making music.

As part of the upcoming University of Manchester’s Festival of Climate Action – arts/environment event, we will discuss the idea behind the work, that the sounds of habitats and species such as birds, bats and frogs can be heard in different ways: as a measure of biodiversity, as a feature of the cultural imagination of local communities, as a creative resource for musicians to compose with and as a means of connecting to the conservation work of museums.

Join us live in conversation, and live from the Vivarium, to hear more on the project next Thursday (14 October) in the Virtual Climate Gallery (6-7pm) as part of Day 4 (Collaboration) at

The Festival of Climate Action

BBC Features


BBC Wildlife Magazine Feature 2021

International Orangutan Day

Orang-Hutan translates to Person of the Forest. Today is the annual International Orangutan Day. This international event aims to promote the conservation and welfare of these critically endangered people of the forest so closely related to us and encourage the protection of their habitat. 

There are still approximately 2,000 to 3,000 orangutans being killed annually. Along with this, orangutans have lost over 80% of their natural habitat over the last 20 years.




Natures Rights – Who cares?

What are ‘Nature’s Rights’, and who is prepared to stand up for them? 

My guest in conversation for this Podcast is Dr Martha Dietrich, Assistant Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam.

As you will know, here at the museum our team’s work focuses on wildlife conservation, specifically amphibians, with the Vivarium being home to many critically endangered species, including the Harlequin frog, and a number of rare species from Ecuador.

In 2008, amendments were made to the Ecuadorian constitution to integrate nonhuman claimants into judicial processes, and Martha’s research in the country has examined the practical application – debates and outcomes – of nature’s rights claims in the court of law. Most recently she has been involved in a ground-breaking case brought against the Ecuadorian state to stop the copper mining company, Codelco, from exploration work in the Intag region of Ecuador, an area with a high number of endangered frog species.

These frogs brought our two worlds together and today we discuss what this case could mean for the future rights of the natural world, and humanity caring for it.

Click the image below and scroll down the page to join our conversation.


Ecologist Article

Hazel dormice – back on our map!

Dormouse on release day : Clare Pengelly

The hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) is an arboreal species of mouse which is golden brown in appearance with a feathery tail and is native to the UK. The dormouse is a charismatic species, known for dozing in a ball throughout the day in neat circular nests with their tails tucked over their heads. Unfortunately they are considered a vulnerable species in the UK as populations have halved in the last 20 years.

Over the last two months, with the support of Manchester museum vivarium, I have been lucky enough to get involved with a hazel dormouse reintroduction project in my local area. The project is a collaboration between the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), Natural England, the Morecambe Bay Partnership and the University of Cumbria’s Back on our Map project.

Volunteers checking for suitable habitat for nest box installation : Bethany Dean

The project brought 30 hazel dormice to an undisclosed location in the Arnside and Silverdale AONB in Lancashire which were bred in captivity, raised and quarantined at London Zoo ready for reintroduction last month. During the quarantine period, the health of the dormice was monitored and they were checked for any disease or parasites to ensure the mice were in fighting fit condition on their release.

Dormouse nest box and footprint tunnel : Bethany Dean

The habitat was specially chosen for its promising qualities of dense tree canopy, habitat connectivity and the presence of a variety of tree species that dormice show a particular preference for, including hazel and rowan trees. In preparation for the reintroduction, a team of volunteers including myself helped to install 200 dormouse nest boxes across the reintroduction area.

The nest boxes ensure the dormice have immediate resources for nest building and to enable close monitoring of the dormouse population by licensed project staff and volunteers. Footprint tunnels were also installed close to the nest boxes as a further measure to help understand their movements in their new habitat.

This is the first of two hazel dormouse releases planned for the area, the plan being that by next summer 80 dormice may have been released into the area. I for one am excited to see how the population develops and am hopeful for a future with dormice back in my local area where they belong!

Back on our map

Peoples trust for endangered species

Duke of Burgundy

Morecambe bay partnership

Uncovering the decline of common toads in the UK

Hi, my name is Rémi Martin and I have been invited to post about my PhD which investigates why toads in the UK are declining. During the past two decades, there has been growing concern about the decline of many common toad (Bufo bufo) populations across the UK. Despite recognition of decline, little is known about the extent and its causes (where and why?). This is partly due to a lack of extensive demographic surveying of the common toad population, especially when compared to more emblematic British species such as the natterjack toad (Epidalea calamita).

In absence of such studies, genetic assessment of populations across the country appears as a good approach to quickly assess population health. The main focus of the PhD project consists of gathering genetic samples from diverse populations across the whole of the UK that would help draw a (partial) genetic map of the country.

Samples are collected by non-invasive mouth swabbing. Looking also at museum specimens (including some of those maintained in Manchester Museum’s collection) will also enable us to compare past and present genetic diversity for some precise localities, giving us more clues into understanding fluctuations in the size of populations. Restricted to some specific localities in Shropshire, we would also like to take a closer look at the potential causes involved in population decline, monitoring some environmental contaminant in ponds during tadpole development.

Overall this project is a first step towards answering the question: where are populations declining?  But much more would be needed to answer the question: why? A mixture of various factors is expected to be responsible for decline and the relative importance of each factor is likely to vary locally. We hope the results generated by this research (that are yet to come) will give some insight into understanding the common toad rarefaction in Britain and serve as a basis for future conservation actions at the national level.

Common toad, Bufo Bufo


Bufo bufo Project

ARC Trust

Working together for wildflowers

This year, it seems there has been more emphasis than ever on saving our native plants. Since the 1930s the UK has lost 97% of our meadows due to the expansion of urbanised areas and of farmland after the Second World War.

Primrose, bluebells and creeping buttercup

According to the wildlife gardening forum, UK gardens equal 433,000 hectares, the equivalent of a fifth of Wales. In England alone, our garden area is more than four and a half times larger than that of our National Nature Reserves. Boosting the biodiversity of our gardens could make a big impact on connecting the UK’s pollinators and saving species on the brink of extinction.

I was keen to embrace Plantlife’s ‘no mow may’ campaign this year and only half way through the month I am already noticing a wealth of native plants popping up across my lawn, which wouldn’t usually have chance to make an appearance before the lawn mower thwarted them.

Primrose, dandelion, bramble and creeping buttercup

Species such as hart’s tongue fern, common polypody, chickweed, primrose, bluebells, cuckoos pint, storksbill and iris have made an appearance along with the commonly spotted lawn weeds such as daisies and dandelions. As many as ten different species are growing within a square metre of lawn, and several species pop up between paving stones.

Whilst observing and identifying the new variety of plant species cropping up in my garden, I have also noticed several species of insect, such as tawny mining bees, white legged snake millipedes, damselfly larvae and white-lipped snails that I hadn’t noticed before, maybe in response to the wider range of plants to feed on and shelter beneath. Any boost in insect populations will no doubt help the food chain above them thrive and help ensure that I will be able to appreciate nature in my own garden well in to the future.

In recent times we have appreciated nature more than ever and now we need to give back, put away our mowers, let those weeds grow and help nature thrive.

Plantlife – No Mow May

60 Second Species