Natural science collections and the specialist staff that work with them provide a vital resource for researchers, environmental consultants, biological recorders, educators and the wider public. In this period of financial depression there is growing need for advocacy as collections face budget and staff cuts leading to neglect, damage and ultimately disposal of collections. This call-to-arms outlines a broad strategy for a partnership approach to safeguarding UK natural science collections for all.
At present a variety of organisations advocate the use and preservation of natural science collections. However, without effective communication and coordination there are problems with duplicated effort, missed opportunities and lack of a unified voice when it is needed. To address this, advocates need to be identified and united to form a collaborative partnership with a shared set of goals.
Recognising and responding to threats
To minimise the loss of collections we need to identify existing collections and monitor them for indicators of risk, such as funding cuts or loss of specialist staff. Reporting structures need to be put in place and a robust response mechanism established that will allow us to lobby against threats and respond appropriately to save collections if threats are made real.
At a strategic level, collections are best protected through demonstrable use and overt demand from stakeholders, but they are also a resource held in trust for the use of future generations. Awareness of the current and future importance of collections needs to be raised with both policymakers and the general public at local, regional and national levels. The contribution of natural science collections to climate science, biodiversity, environmental planning and the school curriculum should be used as leverage to influence policy decisions relating to their future.
Guidance and resources should be developed for museums to help them make the best use of their collections, maintain benchmarked standards of collections care and manage changing circumstances appropriately.
The partnership will seek funding to facilitate the planned actions and the expertise of lobbying groups outside the sector will be sought to inform and facilitate our efforts. The threat to collections is real and without a unified stance they are a resource that will be gradually lost, to the detriment of our past, our present and our future.