NatSCA Digital Digest – April

Compiled by Lily Nadine Wilkes. NatSCA Volunteer.

Welcome to the April edition of NatSCA Digital Digest.

A monthly blog series featuring some interesting things to see and do in the natural history sector including jobs, exhibitions, conferences and training opportunities. We are really keen to hear more about museum re-openings, exhibition launches, virtual conferences and webinars, and new and interesting online content. If you have any top tips and recommendations for our next Digest please drop an email to blog@natsca.org.

Where to Visit

The Lost-Wax for Lost-Species online exhibition brings together over 100 artists and five independent founders to collectively make a Noah’s Ark of endangered species.

Visit the Field Museum of Chicago’s egg vault with Alie Ward and Dr John Bates with this Oology podcast.

Virtually visit the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year Trail, search for clues to be in with the chance of winning some amazing prizes.

The third in City of Trees’ Natural World Webinars on Wednesday 14th April are joined by Rachel Webster, Curator of Botany at Manchester Museum, as the world of blossoms is explored. They will be taking a closer look at some flowers and thinking about the science of blooming.

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Conserving Garden Plant Diversity

Written by Yvette Harvey, Keeper of the Herbarium, Royal Horticultural Society, RHS Garden Wisley.

We live at a period in time where we are very familiar with the concept of mass extinctions that are likely to be caused by human intervention (from burning of the rain-forests, hunting and desertification through to global warming). As the years/decades/centuries progress, our preserved plant and animal [by which I mean anything that moves] collections find themselves being useful tools to provide empirical evidence for the causes of the above, outside of their main purpose of pure taxonomy (Thiers 2020: 219-242).

Following the recent closure of Kew’s Red Listing department, conservation is a subject that readily springs to mind. With c. 390 million specimens contained within the World’s herbaria, information captured in specimen labels has ultimately provided the data for calculating the Area of Occupancy and Extent of Occurrence, both of which play a large part in assessing the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red listing of a plant.

I am lucky to work with a specialist herbarium collection – one that contains ornamental plants based at RHS Garden Wisley. Yes, highly unlikely to play a role in an IUCN assessment, but all the same, a dried ornamental plant collection does play a vital role in conservation. Whilst Plant Heritage aims to conserve living plants, a herbarium that specialises in ornamentals (cultivars) can preserve material of long lost or even recently lost garden plants.

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Review: Decolonising Natural Science Collections Conference 2020

Written by Ella Berry (also available here), amateur taxidermist & MSc Conservation Practice student, Cardiff University.

Concisely contained within one day’s worth of talks, the NATSCA conference on ‘Decolonising Natural Science Collections’ was eye opening. Rarely have I felt my time was so well spent. The conference was recorded so I encourage you to go press play

Overview

With over 300 attendees from Australia to America, the conference had a global reach. The chance to be physically in the same room as so many from the field was sorely missed. However, this didn’t stop attendees taking to the chat rooms sharing ideas, links to literature and discussing the talks.

On reflection, what linked all the talks was an approach differing from the norm. Something altogether novel was provided by looking at objects already existing within our collections, and seeking the hidden information they could offer. The conference showcased not only the large scale, systemic nature of this problem but of on-going work proving the commitment and drive of individuals from multiple disciplines to see decolonisation carried out effectively in the museum sector.

By far the most shocking facet of the conference was how close to the surface these stories are. Colonial connections in our collections are not tenuous. It is confounding to me, that as someone who has visited museums all my life, I knew nothing of this. It would be instructive to see the methodology used to unravel these stories, the initial approach taken, and any difficulties encountered along the way for those inspired to undertake their own investigations. I am still uncertain how to approach unearthing these buried histories.

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NatSCA Digital Digest – March

Compiled by Olivia Beavers, Assistant Curator of Natural Science at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.

Welcome to the March edition of NatSCA Digital Digest.

A monthly blog series featuring the latest on where to go, what to see and do in the natural history sector including jobs, exhibitions, conferences and training opportunities. We are really keen to hear more about museum re-openings, exhibition launches, virtual conferences and webinars, and new and interesting online content. If you have any top tips and recommendations for our next Digest please drop an email to blog@natsca.org.

Where to visit

As we move closer to spring, the Museum of Zoology Cambridge and Cambridge University Garden will be broadcasting a Wildlife Diaries livestream at 5pm on Thursday 1st April. The series of blog posts will be available on YouTube: https://youtu.be/RScsiUeR5aQ accompanied by a panel of wildlife experts who will be ready to answer your questions. You can revisit some of their 2020 BioBlitz highlights here.

The Museum Association’s Moving on Up conference is taking place on March 17th. This is for anyone working in any area of the museum sector, and those employed in a different sector who want to bring their skills to a museum setting.

The Tanyptera Trust webinars are continuing this month with Mining Bees on March 19th and Shieldbugs & Allies 31st March.

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We Brought Our Electric Ray Specimens Into The Lab…What Happened Next Will Shock You!

Written by Claire Smith, Project Officer at the Cole Museum of Zoology.

If you’ve been following the Cole Museum of Zoology on Twitter, you’ll know that the museum is closed at the moment – not only because of the COVID-19 lockdown, but also because we’re preparing our collections for their move into a brand new Life Sciences building. While the new museum may not be ready to open until 2021, we have plenty of work to do behind the scenes in the meantime.

Along with a team of staff and volunteers, I work on the fluid-preserved collections at the Cole Museum. As well as the ongoing task of keeping all of the wet specimens in good condition, we’re also putting some into safe storage, and getting others ready to go out on display. As part of my fluid-preservation Twitter, I share weekly threads about the kinds of tasks that the team takes on.

When specimens come into the lab needing work, we identify them from an abridged version of the museum’s catalogue. This gives us basic information such as the specimen’s accession number, its species, and what kind of fluid it’s preserved in. The majority of the Cole Museum’s specimens are fairly new, by museum standards – they’re mostly around 60 to 100 years old. Many of them have been re-sealed, re-mounted or been housed in new jars during this time, but every now and then we come across one which appears untouched. Continue reading