Willows in the Wind: Digitisation of the Tullie House Herbarium

Excited (botanical) chatter, the inexorable flashing of camera equipment, intrigued visitors gathering around our new gallery space; this was our Virtual Flora of Tullie Herbarium Project, funded by the Bill Pettit Memorial Award at the start of 2017.

The scope of the project, between 30th of May to 26th of September 2017, was to use a team of volunteers to begin photographing and cataloguing our (“ex”) University of Lancaster herbarium. This significant acquisition of 35,000 vascular plant sheets is a highly data rich and well-provenanced collection with invaluable information on the historical and contemporary distribution of species across the UK and beyond.

Almost a third of the specimens were collected from Cumbria, much of it collected during a major 30 year survey of the flora of Cumbria; an exemplar model of field surveying which is aspired to by Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) recorders today. The survey work culminated in the team leader’s (Geoffrey Halliday) highly comprehensive publication of A Flora of Cumbria. No other herbarium has a comparable recent (1968+) collection of Cumbrian material.  But despite the importance of this recent acquisition, none of these specimens were digitised.

Thanks to the Bill Pettit Memorial Award funding this was all about to change.

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NatSCA Digital Digest – February

What’s New?

If you haven’t heard about the exciting discovery of a “spider-like” ancient creature from 100 million years ago, now is the time to check it out! Named Chimerarachne yingi, this little beauty has eight legs and a tail, and is exquisitely preserved. I only wish H. R. Giger had been around to see it. You can read more about the discovery here.

Chimerarachne (Image in public domain)

It’s day three of Operation Move Sue the T. rex over at the Field Museum. To follow this story, follow #SueOnTheMove.

What Shall I Attend?

The big item on everyone’s calendar is of course the NatSCA Conference 2018 – this year hosted in Leeds. Keep the dates 26th and 27th April free. I’m hoping people bring their live-tweeting A-game this year because I’m not able to go, so I need to live vicariously through you wonderful people. You can find more information on our website. Paper and poster submissions are now closed but you can still contribute; continue reading to the next section for more information.

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NatSCA Journal Evolution

NatSCA’s Journal of Natural Science Collections is a place for those working with these collections to share projects and practices that will benefit the museum community. The Journal represents all areas of work with natural science collections, and includes articles on best practice and latest research across disciplines, including conservation, curation, learning, and exhibitions. All submissions are peer reviewed, resulting in high quality articles.

The Journal was founded in 2013, replacing NatSCA News. It has continued to evolve, and 2017/18 has brought some exciting new developments:

Going paperless

Following a recent survey of our members, the committee has decided to offer a paperless option for the Journal. From 2018, when you join NatSCA or renew your membership, you will be given a choice to receive either printed or electronic-only access to the Journal. This will make NatSCA a more environmentally-friendly and sustainable organisation, and save money that can be used in other areas to benefit our membership.

Volume 5 of the Journal will be sent out to all members as normal. It is being finalised at the moment, and will be arriving through your doors very soon!

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Meet the Committee – Isla Gladstone

What is your role on the NatSCA Committee?

I help promote information sharing and collaboration between NatSCA and closely allied subject specialist network the Geological Curators’ Group. These groups share core aims and, increasingly with loss of specialist curatorial posts, a membership. It’s exciting to explore how we can capitalise their individual strengths for the benefit of natural sciences collections and the people who work with them. 

Job title and institution

Senior Curator (Natural Sciences), Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, Bristol Culture

Twitter username

@isla_gladstone

Tell us about your day job

I work with a small team (Biology Curator Rhian Rowson and Geology Curator Deborah Hutchinson) to curate over one million natural sciences specimens of all shapes and sizes. As many a curator will recognise, this varies from high level strategic work to lifting, shifting, labelling and cleaning – a medley of activities to enable diverse access to and preserve these astonishing collections.

Medicinal plant on a page from Bristol’s earliest natural sciences collection – the Broughton herbarium, Bristol & Jamaica, 1779-90. (C) Bristol Culture.

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NatSCA Digital Digest – January

Happy New Year, and welcome to the first Digital Digest of 2018. We have lots of news, conferences, and jobs to keep you entertained for the rest of the ‘working week’. Read on…

What Should I Read?

Palaeontologists have made public the discovery of a new giant bat found in New Zealand, and the media has gone mad for it. Its scientific name (Vulcanops jennyworthyae) was chosen to commemorate the Roman god of fire (specifically including that of volcanoes, making him rather relevant to New Zealand), as well as the hotel in the village in which it was found (also named after Vulcan – that is the Roman god, not Spock’s home planet), and the scientist who found the first fossils; Jenny Worthy.

If you’d like to know all about the Chair of the Geological Curators’ Group, Matthew Parkes, then a perusal of the new blog Six questions for a geological curator would be a good place to start.

The third blog article I’d like to recommend actually came out mid December but it has a lot of interesting points that are important for those working with natural history collections to consider, and so is worth another mention; Four ways natural history museums skew reality.

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The Stag and Jackdaw are Clearly Talking to Each Other

I see urban red foxes quite regularly in London

Although I have lived in England all of my life, I have travelled a great deal and been exceptionally lucky to see some absolutely incredible wildlife, right across the world. With the memories of these exotic beauties in my mind, I think it’s probably natural to feel that Britain is left wanting when it comes to enigmatic fauna.

But then again, every so often I come across something that re-minds and re-amazes me just how much diversity we actually have, and how harsh my aforementioned critical analysis probably is. To win the most prestigious accolades for wildlife photography (on my bucket list), I may need a camera slightly better than the frankly awful smartphone I possess (currently sporting a smashed screen, which can’t help), but I don’t necessarily need to leave this little island. The current British Wildlife Photographer Awards prove I wouldn’t even need to leave my garden (if I didn’t live in London and could afford a property that had one). Squirrels are one of my favourite animals in Britain and luckily for me I get to see big fat fluffy grey ones nearly every day (yes yes, they’re not endemic… Doesn’t mean they’re not cute). Check out these epic photography skills, taken THROUGH a window no less:

Probably not going to win an award with this one.

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Top Ten Most Read Blogs of 2017

This year has been a riotous 365 days of wolves in dresses, spiral poo, and googly-eyed owls, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve had more articles (up by *84%* on 2016) (that number surely requires bold text), more comments, more feedback, and most importantly- more authors than ever before. The NatSCA blog is clearly the place to find stupendous stories, pretty pictures, wondrous wisdom, and… alluring alliteration it seems. To round up 2017, we have identified the top ten most read blogs of 2017, and, because we are super nice, we have even included links to save you searching for them and facilitate your viewing pleasure. You’re welcome, enjoy, and…

Happy New Year to you all!

The top ten most read blogs in 2017:

1- The curious life of a museum curator

2- Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender Be?

3- Stirring the hornet’s nest – are natural science collections even legal?

4- National Gorilla Day! (or Racist Skeletons in our Closets)

5- Private Bone/Taxidermy Collection: The Good, The Bad and The Illegal

6- Famous Flies – Petiver

7- Top Ten Most Read Blogs of 2016   (curiously)

8- It’s All In The Subconscious

9- Making Nature; at Wellcome Collection

10- What is a museum curator made of? Slugs and snails and puppy dog tails, and then some…

The number of blogs that have been published through NatSCA this year is the highest we’ve ever had, but next year we want to beat that record so do get in touch with your idea/s if you would like to submit an article to us. You don’t have to be a professional in natural history, as blogs are relatively informal by nature (no pun intended), it just needs to be related to a natural sciences subject which, let’s face it, with the right twist can encompass just about anything. So drop us an email, or peruse the guidelines and then send us a submission; blog@natsca.org. We look forward to hearing from you after you’ve recovered from the turkey and mince pies.

Written by Dr Emma-Louise Nicholls, Deputy Keeper of Natural History at the Horniman Museum and Gardens and NatSCA Blog Manager.