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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Mary, museums, science and students

Lucy, BSc Natural History student at the University of South Wales and Mary Gillham Project volunteer

When I first heard about Mary Gillham I knew very little of her or her work. Maybe this is because I grew up outside of Wales and knew nothing of her legacy. It was when I attended a Wildlife Trust event that I saw the Mary Gillham Archive Project were looking for volunteers to help with the digitisation of her records. As I am interested in a career in science communication I thought the project would be a good opportunity for me to get a little voluntary experience under my belt, but it has now become a much bigger part of my life than that.

After a few weeks of volunteering I was soon getting to know Mary and her work, and after a chat with Al (Mary Gillham Project Officer) we realised that she could be the subject for my final year project at university. I was immediately excited – what an amazing person to research! I definitely had the best project out of anyone on my course! However, I soon realised it wasn’t going to be as easy as first thought.

Mary’s work has spanned over many decades and reached many parts of the world and so deciding what to focus on for the project was a difficult task. After a number of meetings Al, my supervisor and I decided I would create a small museum-style display that would take a biographical look at Mary and her most influential achievements.

To create this display I am researching museum displays and the methods behind them, particularly when looking at someone’s life and work. The project has been very lucky recently, as they acquired some of the specimens that Mary collected, mostly consisting of varied shells from around the world. This made me particularly pleased, as some can now be included in my project. I want to make the exhibit as interesting and engaging as possible.

Just some of Mary’s teaching aids.

As Mary’s archive also includes thousands of photographs I am also going to trawl through these to find some to use as part of the display, to highlight the changes in some of the places that Mary visited such as Forest Farm and elsewhere.

Wynn Thomas: Aberdare canal. 1973 and the man who excavated it.

Once I have finished the project I hope that it will be a useful tool to educate and engage the public, not just about Mary, but her work too. I am confident that the display will compliment the other work taking place and help the project to tell the story of this remarkable naturalist.

Any thoughts on what makes an engaging and interesting display welcome! Post your thoughts below or contact the project through Facebook, Twitter or email!


The Mary Gillham Archive Project is funded by HLF and managed by SEWBReC
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Walking in the Footsteps of Mary: March, St Gwynno woods

Walks with Mary ’ is back after a winter break! 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 in St Gwynno woods which are situated in the mountains between the Rhondda and Cynon Valleys. A forestry plantation with its own reservoir, nearby Llanwonno has a lovely pub and a church where Guto Nyth Brân is buried… it has also been used in Dr Who!

Download Mary’s species list here!

Mary visited this large wooded area on many occasions with colleagues, her extramural class and during guided Cardiff Naturalist Society walks. An excellent spot for a diverse array of fungi, multiple horsetail species as well as Parsley Fern (Cryptogramma crispa) on the pennant sandstone cliff near to St Gwynno’s church. In March (1971) and April (1990) Mary and her colleagues recorded 45 different species within the St Gwynno although a broader search through Mary’s archive pulls up a further 377 species recorded in and around the woodland.

Download Mary’s species list here!

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There are many species missing from Mary’s list though and so plenty of scope for you to add to the tally!

picture1We also have downloadable resources to encourage recording in beginners!

The car park for the woodland can be found at ST032958 and here on Google Maps. There are entrances at ST02689571 and ST03229587.


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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Mary Gillham Project at the Gwent-Glamorgan recorder’s forum

In late January, SEWBReC organised their annual Recorder’s Forum where people and organisations involved in wildlife recording, management and conservation get together to discuss the important topics of the day.

There was an interesting and diverse mix of speakers and subjects ranging through plants, birds, molluscs, bees through to landscape-scale management and members of the Mary GIllham Project talking about what we have achieved so far.

One of the project volunteers also captured some of the day on film and produced this lovely little video.

The forum also provided a welcome opportunity to chat with other biophiles and also hear stories about our very own Mary Gillham. If you would like to find out more about recorder events, take a look at SEWBReC’s event page and if you’d like to chat about Mary Gillham you can send us an email to alan.reeve@sewbrec.org.uk.


The Mary Gillham Archive Project is funded by HLF and managed by SEWBReC
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A new lease of life

As part of International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2017, we’re telling the story of Mary Gillham’s teaching collection and how, 30 years after Mary’s retirement, it is being put back to work…

One of the few examples of pressed flowers we have in the archive.

When we started the Mary Gillham Archive Project we knew that, whilst we inherited a huge volume of materials, there were gaps in it… Where were the international travel photos? Where are her negatives? Where are the disks with the text of Mary’s books (including the 6 unpublished manuscripts we have found in her archive)? Where is Mary’s natural history collection?

We’re still to work out the answers to the former questions but a chance discussion has answered the latter … at least in part!

We have recently started talking with Mary’s colleagues and friends to help tell the story of her life and work. Last week Dr Madeleine Havard came into the office to chat … Madeleine knew Mary through her work with environmental organisations such as the Glamorgan Wildlife Trust (as was, now the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales) and Cardiff Naturalists, but primarily by taking over the reins of the natural sciences Lecturer in Extra Mural Studies at Cardiff University vacated by Mary herself. It was while chatting with Madeleine that we heard about the boxes of teaching materials which, on retiring, Mary had left in the old Extra Mural building at 38/39 Park Place.

Despite Mary leaving a few years previously, there were still boxes and boxes of items that she had collected on her travels, as well as boxes and boxes of slides, which were all stored in what became the science lecturer’s office in the department.  They remained there for at least the decade that I used that office, and although not drawn on often, the contents provided subject interest for odd lectures and Open Days” Madeleine told us.

Despite the Extra Mural department having moved (and been renamed at least twice!) since Mary’s retirement, Madeleine was pretty confident that the University wouldn’t have thrown them away, and so put us in touch with current Director of Continuing & Professional Education at Cardiff University, Dr Zbig Sobiesierski to see if he could shed some light on where they might be now.

We were not to be disappointed by an almost immediate response from Zbig. Yes Mary’s teaching collection is still in the here, would you like to come over and see it?

Quick as a flash the Mary Gillham team went to the department’s new digs on Senghennydd Road to see this lost treasure. Zbig led us to a room and presented to us a shelving unit with 50 dusty boxes of shells and other artefacts that had survived their long-haul journeys to Cardiff, and, somewhat miraculously, a couple of moves within Cardiff itself. Covered in dust and with itchy noses we excitedly carried the boxes into our office to pore over the delights within.

Predominantly shells (with a sprinkling of driftwood, bones, seaweeds and rocks), there was material from across the globe: Norway, Kenya, Greece, Spain, Jamaica,  Zanzibar, New Zealand, the Seychelles, Bahamas, UK and USA, with some dating back to the late 1950s.

Whilst enjoying the presence of Gillham foraged shells and a sense that we had reunited two parts of the archive we realised that we need some guidance as to the actual archival value of the collection. So we contacted Dr Ben Rowson and Anna Holmes, are curators in the Mollusca department in the National Museum Wales, who gleefully came over to see the collection for themselves.

Ben takes up the story.

As fans of Mary’s work we were eager to acquire something from her for the mollusc collections at the Museum, but this collection held a few surprises. Whereas we’d expected a little more in the way of voucher specimens for Mary’s local records, there were instead many beach-collected curios from her overseas travels. Among the usual Indo-Pacific seashells were a few specimens less commonly seen in collections, such as some Giant African Land-snails from the Tanzanian islands of Zanzibar and Mafia, and a juvenile shell of Syrinx, the Australian Trumpet Snail, an enormous adult of which has become one of our most widely seen props in recent years. The juvenile shows repaired damage, perhaps incurred by a crab, nicely illustrating how the early years are often the most dangerous times for such large animals.

An intact shell of the delightful Spirula or Ram’s-horn Squid (a staple of zoological teaching as one of the very few cephalopods to have a shell), was taken along with a fine string of egg-cases from Busycon, a Channelled Whelk from the USA. Some of these will be now be “re-born” as display or handling material once again, and used in our exhibitions, teaching and other activities (the theme of animal eggs being an annual favourite!). Others will be accessioned into the permanent collections, so that the National Museum will always have a few shells bearing the label “leg. & det. M. E. Gillham” to help remember her by.”


That wasn’t the end of it though; Teresa Darbyshire (Assistant Curator in the Marine Biodiversity section of the Museum) continues the story.

After their perusal of Mary’s mollusc collection, Ben and Anna sent me some photos of the non-mollusca specimens they had found in her collection. There seemed to be some interesting and potentially very useful specimens there so I too went over to SEWBReC’s offices to look through the large, dusty pile of boxes to see what I could find. What I did find was a surprising collection of specimens not just from around the world but also from shores on our own doorstep, including examples of tropical calcareous worm tubes, sponges and sea urchins.

Coincidentally, I have searched our own collections in the last year trying to find examples of barnacle and worm tube-encrusted rocks or shells to use during outreach events with the public but surprisingly, sometimes it is these simple, highly visual and tactile objects that we don’t have as we concentrate on collecting individual specimens or the larger item is lost by virtue of the removal and identification of the individuals that make it up. Mary obviously collected and used such objects for exactly the same purpose as I am hoping to use them for now.

There were also some really nice, large examples of British sponges that will again be very useful for both outreach and display and are not items that are easily collectable. These specimens will now continue Mary’s legacy of teaching and education, hopefully helping us to enthuse the general public about the wonders of the marine world.


Finally, Katherine Slade, a specialist in Lower Plants (e.g. algae mosses and liverworts) came for a look…

Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales holds at least 350 botanical specimens of Mary’s that we know of, but only one marine algae specimen (Wireweed, Sargassum muticum), so I was keen to see what seaweeds were in the collection of such an enthusiastic naturalist. Of the ~10 algae specimens in the collection, almost all are calcareous algae (incorporate calcium carbonate into their cells). In terms of storage in the herbarium, these hard seaweeds are ones that you would usually preserve in boxes or in fluid, as they would not easily press onto card.

For education, I took some Kenyan seaweeds that beautifully show the range of branching patterns and shapes that calcareous algae can create. I also took a specimen of Maerl that Mary had collected from Galway in 1979. Maerl beds are formed by a range of calcareous algae species, and are a fragile habitat that is now very rare in Britain and Ireland.

Mary donated botanical specimens regularly to the Museum from the 1950s to the 2000s, including ferns, gymnosperms, flowering plants, fungi, mosses and algae, reflecting her wide ranging interests. Given the extent of her marine collection, it surely seems likely that she would have kept a herbarium of her own as well – perhaps including some pressed seaweeds”.


So, in the space of a week we went from being unaware of the existence of Mary’s shells, to collecting them and having some of them enter the National Museum’s collection. Swift work indeed! The Mary Gillham Project will use the rest to help illustrate Mary’s life and showcase the diversity of natural history at SEWBReC events. We are glad that, after a near 30 year break, some of Mary’s finds will once again be used as educational and research tools… Now we just need to find Mary’s herbarium.

List of species taken by the museum:

Sponges/sea fans (Caribbean) – 1 large box
Spones (S. Wales) – 1 large box
Worm tubes & bored rocks – 1 large box
Sea urchins: P.miliaris/P. lividus – 1 small box each
Encrusting barnacles/worm tubes – 1 small box each
Worm tubes (Seychelles) – 1 small  box
Seaweeds (Kenya) – 1 large box
Sand dollars (Kenya) – 1 large box
1 spec. Nemertesia antennina (bryozoan)
Approx 30 lots of marine and non-marine shells
1 lot of egg capsules of Busycon
1 lot of wood bored by Teredo

Images by Annie Irving, Katherine Slade and the Mary Gillham Archive Project

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



At the tail end of December in 1959 Mary Gillham and 3 other female scientists became the first British and Australian females to join a research trip in the Antarctic. Today is our last blog about this trip as Project Volunteer Annie Irving reflects on Mary, Isobel, Susan and Hope’s legacy of opening the door (although just a crack) to female Antarctic researchers…


As I began to write this blog, I was horrified to read news articles detailing the incredibly sexist statements (that women vets are worth two fifths of men) by the Chancellor of Massey University, where Mary worked as an exchange lecturer in 1957. The Chancellor has since resigned but his statements served to highlight, if such was necessary, the obstacles women face when choosing the sciences as their career option.

As a woman beginning her career as a scientist in the 1950s, I’m sure Mary Gillham was even more aware of these obstacles. As we’ve noted in the introduction to this series of blogs, Mary and her three female colleagues were the first (two) British and (two) Australian women to be included in a research trip to the Antarctic region, a situation so previously untenable that their involvement was refused several times before the Australian Acting Minister for External Affairs finally made the decision to allow the women to join the expedition just three weeks before they were due to sail.

Though drunkenness and ribald behaviour was tolerated in the male expedition members, the performance and behaviour of the four women came under intense scrutiny, by the media, by their fellow ANARE crew members, by government, university and other institutional officials. If they had not acquitted themselves with complete decorum and undertaken their scientific research in an exemplary manner, it’s highly likely the future involvement of women in similar scientific expeditions would have been greatly hindered and delayed.

Sixty years on, sexism remains a major issue for women determined to make a career in science. Though more women now choose science as an option for university study, they remain under-represented in senior positions in the discipline; they continue to be paid much less than male counterparts with the same skills and qualifications; and only 15 women have won the Nobel Prize in a scientific discipline since the award was established in 1901.

In the field of Antarctic and polar research, women like Mary and her fellow female expedition members provided inspirational role models for women hoping to follow in their footsteps. In subsequent years, Isobel Bennett returned three times to Macquarie to conduct further research but it wasn’t until the 1970s that women spent more than a couple of weeks on the island: medical practitioner Zoe Gardner was the first to spend a year there in 1976.

Nowadays, women polar scientists regularly join expeditions in the Antarctic region and frequently over-winter on Macquarie Island and at the various research stations on the continent, though their presence can still surprise. As Jaimie Cleeland wrote at the end of her recent stint on the island, older visiting tourists are still ‘astonished to see so many women working on the island’.

The role of women involved in polar science remains under-recognised, so much so that a group of female scientists last year organised a Wikibomb to create and update ‘more than 100 biographies of high achieving women in Antarctic science’. As organiser Dr Jan Strugnell explained ‘some 60% of early career Antarctic researchers are women, with strong reputations in the scientific community, but only about 10% of awards, prizes and papers at scientific conferences were presented to, or given by, women’ so a ‘greater online presence of female Antarctic science role models is important and long overdue’.

The list of Antarctic women is long and impressive but the fact that a Wikibomb was even necessary in 2016 speaks volumes about the progress of women in science, or the lack of it, sixty years after Mary Gillham’s pioneering journey to Macquarie Island.

For an ‘on-site’ summary of life in the Antarctic with muses on the experiences of females en route to today’s ‘enlightened’ times, you’ll struggle to find a better read (and some glorious and less glorious pictures) than Eat Sleep Freeze Repeat’s blog: Girl Power in Antarctica.

So, that’s it for the Macquarie blogs! Thanks for joining us over the past three weeks, the project continues and we shall be writing more very soon!

Reference material and further reading:

Thanks to John Wilkins (MGAP volunteer) for coordinating this series of Macquarie blogs.

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

At the tail end of December in 1959 Mary Gillham and 3 other female scientists became the first British and Australian females to join a research trip in the Antarctic. The likelihood of females joining future research trips would depend on the success of these ground-breaking women. We’re retelling Mary’s tale and talking more about Macquarie Island where this was all to take place…

In 1971, the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife Service came into being and, as a result of this, Macquarie Island became designated a conservation area.

In 1972, the island’s designation was upgraded to State Reserve under the Tasmanian “National Parks and Wildlife Act” of 1970 and, in 1978, it became the Macquarie Island Nature Reserve.

Want to see what Macquarie looks like right now? Check out the Macquarie Island Station webcam!

From 1997 until its withdrawal in 2011, Macquarie island held status as a “biosphere reserve” under the “Man and the Biosphere Programme”.

Macquarie Island was granted World Heritage status in 1998.

One of the largest earthquakes ever recorded (measuring 8.1 on the Richter Scale)  hit Macquarie on 23 December 2004. Despite the magnitude of this quake (which “rocked the island to its roots”), it caused very little damage. This “event” took place exactly forty-five years to the day after Mary Gillham first set foot on the island. (So no direct link to her then. Or was there?)

Check out an interactive timeline of Macquarie’s history

From the very start of man’s arrival on Macquarie, rats and mice inadvertently brought by their ships prospered and multiplied due to the lack of predators. As a consequence,  cats were introduced in an attempt to prevent those rodents from eating the humans’ food stores.

c1870, both rabbits and wekas were brought to the island by sealers who intended that the creatures would breed and thus provide them with a ready supply of fresh meat. And breed they did. In fact, one might say, they bred like rabbits doing so with such success that, by the time a century had passed, in 1970 there were estimated to be more than 130 000 of them on the island!


Feral cats introduced to the island had a such a devastating effect on Macquarie’s population of seabirds with that they made an estimated 60 000 kills per annum!

Between 1985 and mid 2000, therefore, a programme was undertaken in an effort to save the seabirds from their feline predators and this was ultimately successful with the last of approximately 2 500 of them being culled by June of the programme’s fifteen year span. Consequently, the seabird population soared (pun intended) but widespread environmental damage still continued to be caused by wekas, mice, rats and rabbits.


As might be expected, with the culling of the cats, rabbit numbers multiplied rapidly but were reduced to c10 000 when myxomatosis was introduced in the early 1980s though, by 2006, the population had again grown to more than 100 000 with their nibbling of the grass layer leading to soild erosion and cliff collapses that destroy seabird nests as they did did in September 2006 when a large landslip at Luisitania Bay also destroyed a significant part of the breeding ground of an important penguin breeding colony.

On 4 June 2007, the Australian federal government announced that it and the Tasmanian state government were to jointly fund the eradication of rodent and weka pests on Macquarie. This project, estimated to cost $A24 000 000, was to be based on initially mass baiting the island with this to be followed by the use of dog for hunting remaining pests.


Despite a temporary suspension of the programme due to the unexpectedly high levels of bird deaths due to the baiting being carried out, it was reported in February 2012 that wekas had been and that rabbits, rats and mice had almost been erradicated from the island. The measures continued and, by July 2013, it was reported that no further rabbit signs had been found.

On 8 April 2014, Macquarie Island was declared officially to be “pest-free” this coming after some seven years of concerted conservation efforts with its achievement making it the largest successful island pest-eradication programme ever attempted anywhere in the world.

The Australian Antarctic Territory postage stamp issue shown here was released to recognise the work of dogs in the eradication of the animal “pest” problem on Macquarie Island.

In September of this year (2016) the Australian Antarctic Division confirmed it was to close its Macquarie research station in 2017 but the Australian government  responded swiftly to this (and to widespread protest from the Australian people) by announcing that it would make available funding that would enable the upgrading of existing infrastructure and allow the continuation of operations on the island.

Macquarie Island isthmus after a snowfall. By Hullwarren – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Read on tomorrow!

Reference material and further reading:

Thanks to John Wilkins (MGAP volunteer) for coordinating this series of Macquarie blogs.

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