NatSCA Digital Digest – February 2023

Compiled by Glenn Roadley, NatSCA Committee Member, Curator of Natural Science at 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. We are keen to hear from you if you have any top tips and recommendations for our next Digest, please drop an email to

Sector News

NatSCA Conference

The NatSCA annual conference and AGM will be held at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery on Thursday 27th and Friday 28th April 2023. The focus this year is:

So how do we actually do all this? Hopeful futures and turning theory into practice for big issues in natural history collections.

This is the “How To…” conference for people working with natural history collections. The last few years have seen unprecedented changes in the expectations for what the museum sector can deliver. Global and local social and environmental issues have coincided to reinforce the needs of museums to consider their reinvention and relevance. Booking will open shortly, so keep an eye on our website and social media channels for updates.

SPNHC Conference

The 38th Annual Meeting of The Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections is being held in San Francisco, California 28 May – 2 June 2023. Full details here.

DiSSCo UK Community Event

The next DiSSCo UK event will be held on March 3rd, 14:30-16:30 via Microsoft Teams. Please save this date in your calendars! A general update on DiSSCo UK activities and future plans will be provided, and we will hear from our colleagues at Kew regarding their digitisation project, and will discuss the affiliation between natural science collections and the humanities sector. For details, contact Tara Wainwright (

Bursaries for People and Plants workshop 2 at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Friday March 10th 2023)

Applications are now open for 4 funded spaces at workshop 2 of the AHRC funded project ‘People and Plants: reactivating ethnobotanical collections as material archives of Indigenous ecological knowledge’.

Four bursaries of up to £225 each are available. This sum may be set against your travel costs or accommodation costs.


  • Only members of the Natural Science Collections Association and the Museum Ethnographers Group can apply for a bursary.
  • All successful applicants must provide a write up for the NatSCA or MEG blog.
  • Due the funds available, applications are limited to UK residents only.
  • Bursaries are only open to individual members.

To apply for a bursary please write no more than 500 words on how the workshop would be useful for your own personal or professional development, how this fits with your interests and what you might bring to the discussion.

Preference will be given to those lacking institutional support to attend workshops, early career museum professionals and students.

All bursaries are given at the discretion of the project team and the NatSCA and MEG committee. Applicants will be notified by February 20th if they have been successful and travel and accommodation will be booked by the project.

Applications should be sent to: Ali Clark by Friday February 17th at 5pm.

Details of the workshop: March 10th Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

This workshop will be run in partnership with the Department of Cultures and Languages, Birkbeck, University of London and Museu Goeldi, Brazil. Discussions will be centred around the ecological value of ethnobotanical collections, including a focus on the interaction of western botanical nomenclature and traditional knowledge which forms the basis of an existing British Academy Knowledge Frontiers project. The Richard Spruce collection (1849-1864) will be the basis of a case study for how culture, plants and environment in the northwest Amazon have changed over the last 160 years.

Speakers include: Luciana Martins (Birkbeck), Dagoberto Lima Azevedo (Tukano Indigenous Researcher), Claudia-Leonor Lopez Garces (Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi) and Cinthya Lana (University of Gothenburg)

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Adaptating to Change

This report on adaptation has been brought to you by curatorial trainee Adam Peel.


One particular talk I found really interesting at this year’s NatSCA conference at the WMC in Cardiff was the one delivered by Paolo Viscardi, Justine Aw, and Russell Dornan about ‘Rising to the challenge’. The talk was essentially about how adaptation is needed within NatSCA itself and museum collections.
A rather interesting aspect of the talk (for myself anyway) was delivered by Justine Aw who discussed the makeover which the NatSCA website has recently undergone as well as some of the features that have been added. I found the addition of the crowd-sourced interactive map on the page ‘Natural History Near You’ to be the most intriguing. This is a section of the website where museum professionals, members of NatSCA or anyone who has access to the internet and an interest in Natural History can enter information on Natural History collections across the UK & Ireland.


To do this, the webpage allows people to add/edit existing information and even for people to add their own new entries to the map by filling in a form at the bottom of the page.
It is important for us to keep records of Natural History collections, as people need to know about them in order to get the most out of them, no matter how big or small a collection is, as well as them providing us all with physical records of what is happening at all levels.

This, with the other recent additions to the site and the general makeover, show just how seriously NatSCA and everyone involved with Natural History take adapting in order to keep up with the rest of the world & technology.



Today we have Lukas Large, curatorial trainee with the Birmingham Museums Trust, on digitisation:

The theme of this year’s SPNHC2014 meeting was ‘Historic Collections: Future Resources’. Digitisation was featured as one of the main topics as this is an important way that collections are being made accessible to researchers and new audiences.

The talks described a wide variety of digitisation projects from the enormous Paris Herbarium which ran for 4 years and created images of 5.3 million specimens to Arkansas State Herbarium with 18,000. Many of the projects involved herbarium sheets as these are relatively easy to image but an amazing variety of objects have been digitised including fossils at GB3D Type Fossils, insects and even historic slide collections.


Extracting the information from specimen labels is an important but potentially expensive and time consuming process so many museums have started to use crowd sourcing to perform tasks such as transcribing specimen labels. Laurence Livermore discussed several successful examples such as Herbaria@home which has been running since 2007 and has a dedicated team of digital volunteers who have contribute 135,000 transcriptions.

These new uses of collections show just how important it is that these objects are properly cared for. Without the museum staff that have looked after these objects, we would not have them to digitise. Without ongoing care, researchers will not be able to study them in the future.

Slides from the talks are available on the iDigBio website as well as detailed descriptions of the protocols and tools used by different projects which are extremely useful for anyone planning their own digitisation project.