In our latest blog we talk to Daryl Stenvoll-Wells about The Linnean Society, its BioMedia Meltdown programme, and her ongoing interest in invertebrates.
Tell us a bit about your/the Society's work.
The Linnean Society is the world’s oldest extant biological society, which is devoted to connecting people with nature through learning about natural history. We are rooted in the work of Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus, whose botanical, zoological and library collections we hold at our historic home in Burlington House. We engage with members of the public and share our collections through our library, our publications, our events, and our learning programmes.
I run one of those, the BioMedia Meltdown programme, which is centred on working with young people in upper Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 through interdisciplinary art/science workshops, culminating in an annual competition. Students can submit work and win prizes for their interpretation of art projects with natural science themes.
Due to the covid-19 restrictions, this year’s project was moved online - a combination of live virtual workshops with classrooms in London, and instructional activity videos with accompanying resources for schools and home schooling families across the UK.
How does your/the Society's work celebrate invertebrates and other wildlife?
The Society has some fascinating books and specimens that celebrate invertebrates, and I tried to integrate these into this year’s main project, BioMedia Book Arts. Pupils created their own artists’ books with botanical and zoological themes; the activities were focused on wildlife that anyone can find in their local area. Two of our three zoological ‘chapters’ were about invertebrates: one on molluscs (snails and slugs), and one on detritivores (worms and woodlice). I wanted to pick some of the less obvious, “unglamourous” species, because those are the ones that get ignored.
I had several science experts who partnered with me on the project. One was Ania Driscoll-Lind from the Kula Naia Foundation who is also a science and outdoor learning educator. Because of her marine biology background, she knows a lot about molluscs and woodlice (who are evolutionarily tied to sea creatures). Another partner was Michael Holland, an ecologist, educator, and author - he knew loads about worms and their important to gardens. In the mollusc video we also featured conservationist Rachael Iveson-Brown, who shared some fascinating information about shell formation in snails.
I went to some of my colleagues and asked if they had any good invertebrate visuals to share from the collections. Snails and woodlice are not the most typical artistic subjects from zoological art, and I needed to find visually exciting work to inspire the pupils. Publication manager Leonie Berwick pointed me to the books and specimens that might help, and our digital assets manager Andrea Deneau ensured I had the images needed to share with them. This was a great way to introduce our collections and I developed two resources specifically to go with each video in case some pupils didn’t have access to outdoor spaces to search for specimens.
What is your favourite invertebrate (species or group)?
Since creating the video, I have been fascinated by molluscs— they are such an amazing and wildly diverse group. From the alien shape-shifting octopus with its incredibly complex nervous system, to the gastropods, whose twisting body forms the logarithmic spiral of its beautiful shells—they are an astonishingly strange set of creatures on land and sea. I do like other types of invertebrates, including some beetles and bees as well as the more common artistic inspirations like moths and butterflies. But after creating that video, molluscs have become one of my favourite types of invertebrates, and I have been inspired to learn more and create more learning activities around them.
What are your earliest memories of invertebrates? Tell us an invertebrate fact.
Charles Darwin, who gave his first presentation on the theory of evolution at the Linnean Society, was fascinated by earthworms, which was the subject of the last book he wrote before he died. In Earthworms, he writes:
“The plough is one of the most ancient and most valuable of mans inventions; but long before he existed the land was in fact regularly ploughed, and still continues to be thus ploughed by earth-worms. It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organised creatures.
In this book he does a wonderful job of highlighting their importance and reminding us all never to underestimate the ‘lowly’ creatures all around us.
Do you have a favourite Royal Park? What do you value most about urban green spaces?
It’s hard to choose just one! Green Park is very near the Linnean Society and I have enjoyed so many peaceful walks through the tree-lined pathways on my way to and from work - it is a much-needed oasis of calm in the middle of central London. But when I lived in Northwest London I adored Regents Park - there is just so much to do there, from exploring the four playgrounds, to seeing a live theatre production in the amphitheatre, to renting a paddle boat and exploring the grounds by water. I come from Los Angeles, where very little green space is preserved for public use, so I’m always awestruck by The Royal parks and the larger park system with such a plethora of green spaces to choose from. It’s wonderful to know that nearly everybody in London has access to green space in which to experience nature.
How can we find out more about you and your work?
You can find out more about the Linnean Society on our website, and can find out more about the BioMedia Meltdown programme on this page. You can also see examples of student work as well as ideas and inspirations for interdisciplinary art/science projects on our Instagram @biomediameltdown. Lastly, if you work in a school, library, hospital or community group and are interested in collaborating on cross-curricular art/science projects, you can always reach out to me at email@example.com.