I live and work on the Isle of Man, a small island in the middle of the Irish Sea, about 30 miles long and 15 miles wide with a population just shy of 85,000. As the Isle of Man is independent from the UK, we have our own central Government and part of my role includes sitting on committees discussing Government policy development, partnership working with environmental NGOs, land management, ecology and conservation. For the most part though I manage the natural sciences collections at the Manx Museum, including (the other) conservation, preparation, IPM, exhibitions, education and outreach, loans, enquiries, etc. As I work for an organisation that encompasses the role of a national trust and national museum, the job is varied and I work with a great team of people who all support each other. One day I may be working with an intern on reboxing and relocating the Geology collection, the next I’ll be learning how to traditionally thatch a cottage using locally grown materials, and when an unusual cetacean washes up on our shores I get to attend the beach autopsies recorded by the local Wildlife Trust (pro tip: strandings in winter tend to be a LOT less smelly…).
I stepped into the role of Chair for NatSCA in May this year, and it’s been a challenging but important time to consider our future activity.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought real immediate impacts to NatSCA’s work. As for many people, NatSCA’s trustees have experienced individual challenges such as furlough or juggling work and childcare. We have also had to adapt our working practice – initially focusing on how to work together effectively as a virtual committee, and moving our event content online. (Announcements on virtual events to follow soon…)
NatSCA’s trustees have also been assessing potential longer-term risks to the charity in light of the pandemic, and how to make sure our activities remain relevant and sustainable. It’s a vital time for natural science collections, with their huge scope to contribute to urgent issues such as climate and ecological crisis and decolonisation. We also have potential challenges ahead, such as reduced budgets for professional development or further loss of subject specialist posts. The shift of many in our sector to virtual working offers NatSCA new opportunities. Most importantly, we are committed to understanding the changing needs of our communities and seeking your ideas to help inform our next steps.
I don’t imagine that there’s an abundance of field work taking place during the unprecedented pandemic situation that we find ourselves in at the moment. However, if there was one piece of advice that I could offer to anybody taking down field notes, it would be to develop neat handwriting! Either that, or to transcribe your notes into digital form as soon as possible. Otherwise, some poor soul – who may not even be a botanist – may find themselves, a mere thirty-three years after your expedition, staring at a page of unfamiliar place names or Latin plant names, with confusion.
That said, would anybody care to take a guess at what’s been happening with the Cyclamen Society collection during lockdown? Yes, I’m taking the opportunity to get to grips with as much of the data entry as I possibly can. As with so many other collections around the world, volunteers haven’t been into the Herbarium since the middle of March. This means that our usual tasks of mounting and photographing the collected cyclamen specimens are out of bounds. Aside from the physical though, there is always plenty of digital work to do.
Though new to the committee, I’ve been volunteering for NatSCA for about 5 years, primarily updating the NatSCA Jobs Listings web page. I’ll be continuing to help out with keeping our website up to date, and I’m looking forward to assisting with the organisation of future NatSCA conferences.
As Curator of Natural Science at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, I am responsible for caring for and providing access to the ~150,000 Natural Science specimens held by Stoke-on-Trent City Council. As the main repository for Natural Science specimens in Staffordshire, the museum holds a robust representation of local flora and fauna, backed by strong links with the local biological recording community. My day to day work usually involves answering enquiries (usually requests for identification), organising both Natural Science and cross-disciplinary displays and exhibitions, developing the collections through both acquisitions and disposals and facilitating visitors and loans. I’m lucky to work with a great team of volunteers, who perform invaluable work documenting and digitising our specimens.
Recently, we were cleaning up some mounted turtles and turtle shells destined to go in the new Live Science Hall. All of these came from Amsterdam Schipol airport, where they had been confiscated by customs agents.
When taking a closer look at these animals we noticed that none of these specimens had the normal glass eyes used in taxidermy. Instead they were made of other materials less commonly used for mounting animals.
Quite a few of the turtles had eyes made from shells. Some appear to be cowrie, but we could not identify them all, and a few other shells were painted black making them impossible to identify.