Meet the Committee – Isla Gladstone

Meet the NatSCA Committee

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.

Are you working on any projects that you’re really excited by at the moment?

Yes! I’m currently leading a regional project funded by the John Ellerman Foundation to support natural sciences curatorial skills in the South West. The number of specialist curators in our region has declined significantly in recent years. In 2015 the nine (now seven) remaining banded together to review and pool our skills, identify gaps, and support non-specialists in partnership with our regional museums development network. 

Sharing skills with non-specialists responsible for natural sciences collections – South West Museums Development Conservation Officer Helena Jaeschke relates the do’s and don’ts of specimen cleaning, at Somerset Archives. (C) Isla Gladstone.

One exciting ‘gap’ we’re working on with the Natural History Museum London and iDigBio is supporting regional collections, large to tiny, to join the global digitisation effort. Specimen biodiversity data – the ‘what, where, when, who’ collected – can help answer big questions facing society today, such as biodiversity loss and climate change. Pool this data to large research aggregators like the National Biodiversity Network and Global Biodiversity Information Facility and it becomes a powerful tool. This field offers huge potential for regional collections to maintain local and global relevance and make a practical difference to people and the natural world, but is challenging to achieve with limited resources. Skills have not kept up to speed with rapid developments, and currently very little (well pretty much no) data is systematically exported.

As the biggest collection in the South West we have a key role to play in working with partners to advocate regional needs and strengths, form a bridge to national / international expertise, and help make the most of this opportunity. We’ll be sharing our work with you, so please watch this space!

On the move: world beetles at Ilfracombe Museum – significant data is found in all sizes of collections. (C) Isla Gladstone.

What would your career be in an alternate universe without museums?

My little boy suffered a massive stroke before he was born, which has been difficult but also given me a privileged insight into the joys and challenges faced by young children with disabilities and their parents, and connected me to some amazing people – so maybe I’d retrain as a specialist children’s physio or occupational therapist. In fantasy world, I’d open a little cafe by the sea!

Written by Isla Gladstone, Senior Curator (Natural Sciences), Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, Bristol Culture, and NatSCA Committee Member.

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.

Meet the Committee – Roberto Portela Miguez

Meet the NatSCA Committee

What is your role on the NatSCA Committee?

I have been the Secretary for the Society since 2014 and on the committee, since 2011. NatSCA and its membership have contributed significantly to my development as a curator and collection manager, so I am very grateful for the opportunity to serve the society in this capacity now.

Job title and institution

I am the Senior Curator in Charge for the Mammal Section at the Natural History Museum, London.

The Museum collection contains an estimated 500,000 mammal specimens and over 8,000 of those are type specimens. This makes it one of the largest and most comprehensive collections in the world.

Twitter username

@bertieportela

“Fashion is key for fieldwork” says Roberto

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NatSCA Digital Digest – December

Save the Date!

The NatSCA conference and AGM will be at Leeds City Museum on Thursday 26th and Friday 27th April 2018!

The conference theme is: The museum ecosystem: exploring how different subject specialisms can work more closely together.

This conference aims to lead us outside our comfort zone and explore how working closely with different disciplines and departments can not only strengthen our own areas of expertise, but museums as a whole. The museum ecosystem is vast and not limited to just museums as it includes universities, local organisations, funding bodies, artists, communities and many other stakeholders.

We are inviting you to propose presentations and posters that focus on sharing ideas, tips and mechanisms that will help inform the work of other attendees. Proposals are welcome from colleagues across all disciplines (not just natural history!)

To submit your abstract, please download and complete a submission form and send your completed form to conference@natsca.org.

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Making the Most of a Move

Making the Most of a Move: Geological Curators’ Group Conference, Day Two

We like to share the goodies in the field of natural history, so in the first ever cross-over of its kind, Part I (comprising Day One) of this blog can be found over on the Geological Curator’s Group website. No need to take the time to google it, let me give you a hand over there.

Night Early Morning at the Museum

The only thing that beats going to a natural history museum is visiting it when you’re not meant to be. The trump card of such a visit, is when you’re allowed to go to parts of the collections, not normally accessible to the general public. After a day in the lecture theatre, the 35+ members of the “Making the Most of a Move” conference assembled the following morning outside the Natural History gallery of the National Museum of Ireland, in order to tick off every one of the above, on the Museum Treats Bingo Card*.

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