Since Covid-19 hit the scene, time has not seemed to behave normally, with a Groundhog Dayesque sense of repetition that has eroded our patience and put our mental health to the test. For many people working with collections it has been a very difficult time, with projects being put on hold, contracts not being renewed, furlough and redeployment making normal work impossible and even the improvements seen in facilitation of working from home offering the thinnest and most tarnished of silver linings.
At the Dead Zoo in Dublin the pandemic has thrown up different challenges. With a leaking roof threatening the national collections, a project to safeguard them by undertaking a roof refurbishment was considered a priority and categorised as essential work. The first stage of this project was to remove two whales suspended from supports within the roofspace, which in turn required a substantial amount of preparation, given the crowded Victorian gallery space.
Biobanks may sound a bit dull when compared to shelves teeming with boxes filled with fascinating skeletons, or cabinets stuffed with colourful skins, beautiful eggs or pinned insects. Serried ranks of anonymous freezers, enhanced with the odd fridge magnet, could make your heart sink, but peep inside the biobanks’ databases and you will see an amazing array of biodiversity.
At National Museums Scotland we host one of the main hubs of the CryoArks Biobank initiative alongside our partners at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, who also host a hub of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria Biobank, and the Natural History Museum in London. CryoArks is a project led by Professor Mike Bruford of Cardiff University and funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council to establish zoological biobanking in the UK. As well as the -80o freezer infrastructure to store the tissue samples long term, CryoArks is developing an online database that will allow researchers to find out what genetic resources are available in the CryoArks Biobank hubs and in member institutions. With the advent of the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefits Sharing in 2014, access to genetic samples from species from range countries is more challenging. Therefore, it is vital that we make the best use of the samples already available in the UK and make these freely available to support research, much of which may benefit the conservation of endangered species worldwide.
About this time last year, The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery was successful in a bid to the Arts Council England Designation Development Fund, securing funding of £72,500 to catalogue and display its nationally significant geology collections. The Designation Development Fund provides funding for projects which ensures long-term care of Designated collections and maximises their public value.
In early March 2020, just days before the museum closed and the country sank into lockdown due to Covid-19, I contributed a summary of the project to the Geological Curators’ Group blog (you can read it here). It really does show how quickly everything changed – at the time of writing the original blog, we were expecting the project to kick off in June 2020, beginning with the recruitment of an Assistant Curator to carry out the documentation of geological specimens bequeathed to the museum by Ted Watkin. This collection, comprised of about 2,000 fossils mostly originating from around Staffordshire, is to form the basis of the project and the new displays, highlighting the history and importance of the Carboniferous coal fields under Stoke-on-Trent.
Welcome to the November 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
The sun was hot on my neck as I walked up the stone steps of the largest museum in America. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is on every natural curators museums to visit list, and I was full of youthful excitement!
Inside was cool, and I was met with a grand hall, with a beautiful taxidermy elephant in the centre. The space buzzes with the echoing chatter and the scuttling of excited little feet. I walk on to the stairs, past the large mass of people queuing for the lift, and head up the stairs, patiently waiting for people to pass, so I can meet my ancestors. Here in the Human Origins gallery, there are wonderful displays and interactives all about the evolution of our species. Children run from case to case. Prams block display panels. Interactives are bashed.
I move along to the mammal gallery, where it seems like twenty different schools have chosen to visit at the same time. The cases are two deep with visitors peering at mammals from continents away: children squashed at the front, adults squeezing and pushing to get a glimpse. Reminiscent of a Friday night at our student bar. The air is stale and dry. The noise of a thousand different conversations ring loud in my head. There’s a feeling of being moved along by an invisible force of hunger: not for food, but to ‘see’ the next thing.
Beautiful taxidermy work of lions attacking a buffalo. I patiently waited 15 minutes until the case was clear of visitors for this photo. Photo by Jan Freedman.