Caring for Natural Science Collections – My First NatSCA Conference

Written by Hannah Clarke, Curatorial Assistant (Collections Access) University of Aberdeen, Museum Collections Centre.

This October I was lucky enough to attend my first ever NatSCA conference, thanks to funding from one of the NatSCA bursaries. I was originally a little daunted, as this was my first Natural History Conference, but I knew that I had to throw myself in the deep end!

However, these worries soon dissolved, as everyone was really friendly, passionate about their specialism and eager to share their knowledge and experiences with everyone else in the room. Not only this, but the setting at Oxford University Museum of Natural History was a real treat, and I had a chance to take in the collection from above during coffee breaks.

View from the first floor at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, showcasing the impressive architecture and collections below. © Hannah Clarke.

Having originally trained as a conservator, I am now working in a collections access role, with responsibility for the upkeep of the Zoology Museum within my institution. Having been more focused on collections care in the last few years, I was keen to learn more about current advances in the conservation of natural history collections.

There were many highlights from the day, and as always at these kinds of events, new connections were made and advice offered openly to those with questions in the audience.

I found Anastasia Van Gaver’s presentation on the conservation of a taxidermy tortoise, really innovative, and particularly liked the idea of mixing papier maché in with fill material to allow a longer working time and deliver texture to an area of loss.

The use of needle felting by Natalie Jones for areas of hair loss, was also an eye opener for me, and I’m sure for many others at the conference too! I was also astonished by Nigel Larkin’s work on ‘Driggsby’ the whale at Tullie House Museum, which not only was an incredible feat of engineering, but also gave me a new perspective on the use of manure in the preparation of skeletal specimens!

The first presentation of the day, ‘Developing strategies for controlling pests and moulds in a large skeletal collection’. © Hannah Clarke.

With only a little knowledge and a handful of experiences of working on natural history specimens myself, I was delighted that I was able to attend the conference in order to learn new skills from specialists in this area. By the end of the day, I left feeling like part of a much larger supportive network, and I wasn’t afraid to try some of the new techniques and processes I’d learnt and to share what I’d learnt with my colleagues.

I’m looking forward to being able to attend more NatSCA events in the future, as they offer a wonderful opportunity to expand your knowledge base through short, sharp presentations, and of course, meet other like-minded professionals in the sector!

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