Can the natural science collection community really do anything about climate change?

MAconf2013I attended November’s Museums Association conference in Liverpool to talk, for NatSCA, on how having a natural science curator in your midst will help your museum to be greener. The session I was involved in, ‘Dead Zoos’, looked at addressing environmental issues from the natural science collection viewpoint.

Both Darren Mann and Henry McGhie spoke eloquently and sensibly about our unique position as natural scientists. We can engage all walks of life with nature and, as a consequence, we can also instil a sense of protectiveness. This, of course, includes caring about our changing climate.

I’ve heard him speak about this before but Henry’s admiration of the RSPB’s ‘giving nature a home’ campaign is always thought-provoking. The RSPB have set out to give people a framework for helping nature directly, and the public have responded.

Several of the questions from the floor asked for practical help in using their natural science collections (with or without a specialist curator) to open up discussions on green issues in their museums. Engaging people – on a wide scale – with nature is easy, a hedgehog really does speak for itself. Natural science specimens need little curatorial input to be engaging and so interpretation can easily be turned to thinking about protecting the environment. Case studies abound from Darren’s entomology collection as well as examples like the Yorkshire Museum’s Tansy Beetle reintroduction in the museum’s garden.

Last but not least it was great to attend a natural science session devoid of whinging. We talked about the positive future, not the negative past. Attendance wasn’t phenomenal, 45ish, but it wasn’t terrible. I would like to see future MA conference sessions that don’t necessarily concentrate on natural science but instead include it as an integral part of a wider topic. That would be progress.

Clare Brown

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