Natural history collections are under threat

Simon Stephens, 08.11.2012
Loss of expertise has led to lack of care for collections
Natural history collections, which are vital for scientific and environmental research, are under threat, according to curators speaking today at the Museums Association conference in Edinburgh.

In a session called The Elephant in the Room, delegates heard how the number of specialist natural history curators has been falling for many years, leaving many collections without people to care for them, interpret them or make them available for research.

Graham Oliver, a keeper of biodiversity and systematic biology at Amgueddfa-National Museum Wales, and Darren Mann, a curator of entomological collections at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, both called for a UK-wide plan to rationalise natural history collections, many of which are in danger because they are no longer being cared for properly.

Oliver said the loss of natural history expertise was a global problem that had been getting worse for many years. He questioned whether most museum managers, trustees and organisations such as Arts Council England, Museums Galleries Scotland and Cymal understand the value of natural history collections.

Mann said some of the money used to fund art collections would be better spent on natural history. He pointed to the Ashmolean Museum’s recent £7.83m acquisition of a portrait by Manet and the fact that the same amount of money could have re-housed the entire UK collection of entomological specimens held outside the national and university museums.

But Mann and Oliver both acknowledged that the natural history curators also need to advocate better on their own behalf.

Comments

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22.11.2012, 09:07
The lack of expertise in natural history leading to the demise of natural history collections is just one aspect of the national (and global) extent of the profound depth of ignorance in all matters natural history, from leading politicians right down to the bottom of the heap. Long- term this ignorance spells disaster for the biodiversity of the entire planet.