How To Get Money For Your Natural Science Collection

Written By Clare Brown, Curator of Natural Science, Leeds Museums and Galleries.

So you’ve got a lovely collection, with lots of lovely potential, you yourself have loads of lovely ideas for all the lovely things you could do with it but you have no money. It’s a pretty common situation in museums but there are ways to fund your collections and the rewards for doing so are BIG.

©Leeds Museums and Galleries

Where and How to Look

There are various companies you can subscribe to who will produce lists of funders that suit your project. People like https://www.grantfinder.co.uk/ and https://www.fundingcentral.org.uk/default.aspx but others are available. We’ve used these in the past in Leeds but haven’t kept up our subscription as museum funders rarely seem to change from year to year.

The main funders to consider in the natural science collection world are:

https://ellerman.org.uk/,

https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/funding-finder/designation-development-fund,

https://www.esmeefairbairn.org.uk/,

https://www.wolfson.org.uk/,

https://garfieldweston.org/,

https://www.museumsassociation.org/collections/esmee-fairbairn-collections-fund,

https://www.heritagefund.org.uk/

and absolutely not forgetting https://www.natsca.org/awards-and-bursaries

There are, of course, lots of grants and grant-giving organisations out there. Your local rubbish tip might be obliged to hand out money, or a very specific endowment fund means that caddis fly collections are eligible for millions (I’m speculating). It’s worth asking around and doing some hunting and it’s interesting who funds natural science collections. For example, Sir John Ellerman himself was a world expert on rodents and so the Ellerman Foundation are keen to fund natural science collections.

©Leeds Museums and Galleries

How to Apply

It is absolutely fine, expected even, to contact a potential funder to chat through a proposal. I’ve always been terrified doing this as I want to make a good impression and paint my project in the best possible light. My experience of these phone calls has been overwhelmingly positive though, the person on the other end wants to hear your ideas and will offer good advice. Obviously, if you are encouraged to do so, applying for a grant after one of these calls is far less daunting.

The rest of the application is straightforward. Read the criteria carefully and then meet it. It’s very similar to a job application.

©Leeds Museums and Galleries

Case Studies

Last year Leeds managed to get £17,000 from various funders to restore and display the skeleton of a Long-finned Pilot Whale. We reached out to local grant-givers, who regularly support Leeds Museums and Galleries projects, for smaller amounts and then a large chunk of it came from the National Lottery Heritage fund. I failed to get a grant from the British Ecological Society for this though, it was rejected as it just didn’t meet their criteria.

In 2014 Leeds received a large amount of money from the John Ellerman Foundation. They funded our ‘Geoblitz’ project, awarding £112,000 for three years. This meant we could employ a geologist and massively increase our access to this fabulous collection. The one additional criteria we had to meet was that we had to operate nationally. In the final year of the project we were able to deliver geology collections expertise around the country and raised Leeds’s profile as a result. The John Ellerman Foundation is a great funder and, at the time, did not require any matched funding.

There are plenty of other current case studies around. Ask Glenn Roadley at the Potteries museum about his recent grant and Jack Ashby at the University of Cambridge Zoology Museum who just received Esmee Fairbairn Collection Fund money for a big project on their butterfly collection. There’s lots of grant-receiving expertise out there in the natural science museum community, and I’m sure they’d be willing to share their advice.

©Leeds Museums and Galleries

You can’t win them all

I once went to a seminar on fundraising and the advice was to try and put about 10 applications in a year, with the expectation of getting a 10-20% success rate. It’s true, the more you put in, the more likely you are to be successful.

I’ve had successes and failures but I certainly don’t have the time to submit 10 a year – they take absolutely ages to produce. When I’ve got a good project – that I’m keen to do and fits a funders criteria really closely – then I’ll spend the time on applying. Leeds’s natural science collection has attracted over £300,000 in external funding in the last ten years.

What Is That Spiny Thing?

Written by Ranee Om Prakash, Senior Curator – General Herbarium IV, Algae, Fungi and Plants Division, Department of Life Sciences, Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum (NHM) holds over 80 million specimens and every single specimen tells a story.

Amongst these 80 million objects, one such object is a specimen (Fig. 1) that the museum acquired from Mexico over 2 decades ago. This object excites curiosity amongst novices, students and the general public alike. Whenever anyone looks at this, the first thing they ask is what is that? A pineapple? A furry cat? Is it a sponge? The imaginations are limitless….

Fig. 1. Flower of Melocactus (© The Trustees, Natural History Museum, London)

This is the flower of Melocactus Link & Otto, also known as the Turk’s Cap Cactus or Melon Cactus. This is how it looks in the wild (Fig 2).

Fig. 2. Melocactus azureus in wild (picture by Pierre Braun, own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35738382

As per the Plant List (2018), this genus has over 40 species. This plant is a native of the Caribbean Islands and is found from the Bahamas, Mexico to North East Brazil below.

Fig. 3. Distribution of Melocactus (source: http://www.plants of the worldonline.org link: http://www.plantsoftheworldonline.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:331763-2.)

In 1753, Carl Linnaeus named the first species as Cactus melocatus. However, this name was rejected and the correct name for this genus is now Melocactus.

The plant has a phylloclade (modified stem that functions as a leaf, aids in photosynthesis and helps to reduce the rate of transpiration) and is easily recognizable by a woolly, bristle-coated structure at the apex of the plant, containing a mass of areoles from which the small flowers grow. At first glance, the dried flower looks like a furry cat, some people even think of it as a pineapple due to its spines and hexagonal structures on the flower. The fruits of this plant are edible. The juice of the plant is used to quench thirst and the plant is also used for medicinal purposes across many parts of the World.

Whenever we get a chance to talk about this mystery specimen, we do. It has been displayed at various events at the museum such as the World’s Plants Fascination Day (celebrated in the month of May) and the Science Uncovered event in the month of September. It a well-known fact that people like to touch, feel and describe the object and increasingly over the years, museums have engaged with audiences in this way as object handling is an excellent way to learn and be inspired. There are several other collections behind the scenes which are equally inspiring, but this Melocactus is one of my favourite specimens. I wonder if there is an object or a specimen that has inspired you too?

If you would like to come and see this and other interesting collections, our department is open Monday- Friday 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. You can drop us an email to book an appointment.

I would like to end this article with a quote from the World Collections Report (2019):

The objects in museums’ collections tell stories about people, places, nature and thought. It is only possible to understand the world around us if we understand its past, both natural and man-made. The stories told by these objects, brought to life by study and display, help more easily to explore common themes and threads through history and relate those to the present day. Some of the most comprehensive and internationally important collections of natural history, ethnography, technology, art, literature and design are held by UK museums – and so these world collections tell world stories.

Acknowledgement

I am grateful to Jonathan Jackson – Photography Studio Manager at the Natural History Museum for kindly imaging the object.

NatSCA Digital Digest – March

Compiled by Jennifer Gallichan, Curator of Molluscs & Vertebrates at National Museum Cardiff.

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. If you have visited an exhibition/museum, have something to say about a current topic, or perhaps you want to tell us what you’ve been working on, please drop an email to blog@natsca.org.

Where Should I Visit?

Monsters Of The Deep opens on 20th March at the National Maritime Museum, Cornwall. Really curious to know what people think of this exhibition exploring centuries old myths of Krackens and Giant Sharks. I have also heard that there will be a Coelocanth on display for the first time in Cornwall!

Design For Life at Surgeons’ Hall Museums, Edinburgh explores the fascinating history of Comparative Anatomy and how integral it was to the beginnings of Surgeons’ Hall Museums. The exhibition will run until Easter 2020.

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Exeter Shell Collection Designated by Arts Council England

Written by Holly Morgenroth, Collections Officer, Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (RAMM).

On 30 January 2020 Arts Council England’s (ACE) awarded Designated status to the George Montagu collection of Molluscs at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (RAMM). Just 152 collections in the country hold the coveted Designation award, and only a few of these collections are Natural History. Tullie House’s natural science collection recently received this accolade. The Designation scheme is a mark of distinction awarded to the finest cultural collections housed in non-national museums, libraries and archives across England.

Pioneering naturalist George Montagu (1753-1815)

George Montagu was the first person to collect and name British molluscs in a truly scientific manner. The shells were not just attractive curios. His work revolutionised the study of molluscs and his collection at RAMM is Britain’s most intact and taxonomically-important, early 19th-century collection of British shells (1800-1816). Today it is an essential resource for taxonomic research.

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NatSCA Digital Digest – February

Compiled by Glenn Roadley, Curator (Natural Science), The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.

Welcome to the February 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. If you have visited an exhibition/museum, have something to say about a current topic, or perhaps you want to tell us what you’ve been working on, please drop an email to blog@natsca.org.

Where Should I Visit?

Plenty of events and exhibitions to keep you busy this month. The Royal Academy of Arts (London) exhibition ‘Eco-Visionaries: Confronting a planet in a state of emergency’ runs until Sunday 23rd February. Through film, installation, architectural models and photography, the works in this exhibition interrogate how architecture, art and design are reacting to a rapidly changing world, From climate change to species extinction and resource depletion.

Exploration: From Deep Time to Outer Space’ continues at The Hunterian, Glasgow. The Hunterian is home to many important historical and modern natural history specimens and the associated materials related to them. Many of the most interesting and scientifically valuable are the product of fascinating field investigations and expeditions. This exhibition explores the scientific discoveries of the University of Glasgow’s staff, students and associates since the 18th century. Open until 15th March.

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The Power of People and Collections in the Climate Emergency

Written by David Gelsthorpe, Curator of Earth Science Collections, The Manchester Museum and Jan Freedman, Curator of Natural History, The Box, Plymouth (formerly Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery).

Museums are most powerful when they connect real objects and research with real people. Natural science objects elicit deep emotional responses to the climate emergency; they help people to care and when done right, empower action.

This message is central to the NatSCA conference this year:

Changing the World: Environmental Breakdown, Decolonisation and Natural Science Collections

We’d love to hear your experience in a talk at the conference, the deadline for submissions is the 7th February.

Natural science collections are unique records of past biodiversity and climate across Britain, and the world, and are essential for climate change research taking place in museums every day. They allow access to historical information about millions of different species, providing an incredible amount of detail. They show how plants and animals have responded to past climate change, they show long-term population trends, and they show what we have lost.

These are all stories essential to bring clear factual science to an emotionally-charged debate. Research on these collections has directly shaped conservation work and climate change mitigation. In short, natural science collections are a powerful way to help save the world and give people hope for a better future.

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Decolonising Natural Sciences Collections

Written by David Gelsthorpe, Curator of Earth Science Collections, The Manchester Museum.

Decolonising museums is in the headlines a lot at the moment and so it should be. I’ve chatted to a few people about this recently and it isn’t very clear what it means, how it relates to natural science collections and how we can start to decolonise our collections, so I thought I’d share my own thoughts.

Much of the discussion in the museum sector has been around ethnography collections with some great work that goes some way to redress our colonial past (including from my own institution Manchester Museum who have returned sacred aboriginal objects). Some ethnography objects are made from bark, fur or ivory, but these materials don’t often form part of the decolonisation debate.

The reality is that many natural history collections, particularly in the western world have a colonial origin. Many objects were traded on slave ships and were an attempt to map and tame the British Empire. Miranda Lowe and Subhadra Das have done some brilliant work to highlight this and the Grant Museum’s new exhibition on their Colonial Histories is a great first step in bringing this to the public.

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