Nature Notes

In 2016 the Herbert held its first in-house natural history exhibition since a major redevelopment was completed in 2008. The exhibition, Nature Notes, explored the seasonal changes in local wildlife by displaying taxidermy, nests, insects, botany and fungi, botanical watercolours, oil paintings and contemporary artworks. It encouraged visitors to look at the natural world around them and the artworks aimed to inspire visitors to respond to nature in a creative way.

Nature Notes was designed to be enjoyed by all and accessibility was a key consideration in developing the interpretation and interactives. Additions to the exhibition included Makaton on the text panels and interactive tables; and the provision of accessibility aids such as torches, magnifying sheets and ear defenders. We considered contradictory needs such specific learning difficulties and visual impairments by producing lower contrast labels and providing high contrast large print text to take round the space.

Gallery view of Nature Notes.

Gallery view of Nature Notes. The seasonal display runs around the wall, with interactives and handling specimens in the centre.

The most popular part of the exhibition was the multi-sensory interactive tables with things to touch, smell and listen to. These were created by using low cost tables with adjustable legs with a vinyl graphic applied so they tied in with the exhibition’s design. Five pieces of taxidermy were commissioned – one of each season, plus a spare mouse. We worked with a local group of disabled and non-disabled teenagers to help us choose the right smells for each table – only the brave dared to smell the otter dung! As each offered the same experience of touch, smell and sound this meant queues did not form around one table, allowing for a better visitor experience.

Nature Notes ran for 20 weeks from July to November 2016 and the visitor target was set at 15,000. The final total was 24,000 visits – over 1200 a week – making Nature Notes one of the most visited exhibitions in that space. We evaluated the impact of the exhibition in several ways including analysis of the comments book and a report conducted by students over the summer holidays.

One of the interactive sensory tables.

One of the interactive sensory tables. The taxidermy specimens were prepared specially for this exhibition.

In the comments book 95% of responses were positive, 2% neutral and 3% negative although most of the negative comments were about taxidermy, rather than the exhibition. The student evaluation included 50 surveys, tracking of 50 visitors and general observation. They found that the sensory tables were the most popular part of Nature Notes. It was also noted the importance of gallery staff to help engage visitors with the tables and guiding them on the use of the accessibility tools available. Overall 40% of those asked wanted another natural sciences exhibition at the Herbert!

Nature Notes was designed to become part of the Herbert Touring programme once the run in Coventry finished. Despite being advertised via the Touring Exhibitions Group and our website, unfortunately we did not have any takers. Feedback has suggested that larger museums already have a gallery on local wildlife and smaller museums were not able to afford the cost of the exhibition, as the touring programme is not subsidised in any way.

However Nature Notes will have a legacy both for the Herbert and more widely. The sensory tables have been kept and one will be lent a local wildlife reserve in April 2017 for their Easter activities. We are considering how best to use the tables in the long term – they might acquire castors and become supervised holiday activities in the permanent galleries.

Locker with accessibility aids, step stools and panel with Makaton

Locker with accessibility aids, step stools and panel with Makaton.

We have learnt a lot through creating Nature Notes and will be applying this knowledge to make future exhibitions more accessible. This project has shown that a lot can be done on a relatively small budget and that this investment can be used beyond the project’s lifetime. As well as the interactive tables being used again the accessibility aids are due to be relocated to the museum’s reception.

On a personal note, delivering this exhibition and getting visitor feedback has been a real pleasure. One moment in particular that stood out was during an audio description tour trial. The gentleman I was guiding had had no visual perception for 30 years and was only partially engaged by the spoken descriptions of objects. However, when I took him to the sensory table and he was able to feel the ears, eyes and nose of the fox he said ‘the exhibition has just come alive for me’.

We would like to thank our funders, NatSCA, the Bill Pettit Memorial Fund and Mander Hadley, whose contributions allowed us to create the exciting sensory tables that proved so popular.

If you would like to find out more about the exhibition please contact Ali Wells, Curator at Herbert Art Gallery & Museum on @HerbertCurators

Written by Ali Wells

NatSCA Digital Digest

NatSCA polar bear


Education Assistant – National Museum of Ireland – Natural History

Duration: Permanent

Closing date: 5th June 2015

To apply, click here

Conferences and Workshops

A few exciting talks are coming up at the Natural History Museum soon, which I thought would be worth highlighting for you. The first is the Annual A. R. Wallace Lecture which this year will take place on the 2nd June 16:30-17:30. The subject is ‘Wallace, Darwin, and Spiritualism: The Trial of the Spirit-Medium Henry Slade, 1876’. For more information, click here.

On the 24th July at 16:30, the SciFri Seminar series brings to you ‘The Greatest Living Naturalist- The Life and Conflicts of Professor Richard Owen’, in celebration of Richard Owen’s birthday. It will be in the Neil Chalmers Seminar Room. For more information, click here.



The long awaited ‘Power of Poison’ exhibition has opened at the Old Truman Brewery in London. The website invites you to ‘discover the alluring, seductive and terrifying role of poison and how it affects our everyday lives through nature, myth, medicine and healing’ and of course, will contain spiders, snakes, and other lovelies. For more information, click here.

Content assembled by Emma-Louise Nicholls

Recreating the Past: In LEGO®

By Christine Taylor, Keeper of Natural Sciences, Hampshire County Council Arts and Museums Service (HCCAMS)

An Ice Age animal, a sabre-toothed cat, made from LEGO bricks. (C) Julian Wright (HCCAMS)

An Ice Age animal, a sabre-toothed cat, made from LEGO bricks. (C) Julian Wright (HCCAMS)

Reaching new audiences for natural science collections is always a challenge, especially if the museum concerned is a network of recreated Victorian and 1930s streets.

However, the opportunity of working with artists from British company ‘Bright Bricks’ has enabled the creation of extinct animals made from LEGO, based on the Natural Science collections of the Hampshire County Council Arts and Museums Service (HCCAMS).

Leg bones, gizzard stones and a replica egg of a giant moa. (C) Julian Wright (HCCAMS)

Leg bones, gizzard stones and a replica egg of a giant moa. (C) Julian Wright (HCCAMS)

The Natural Science collections provided the inspiration for many of the specially commissioned builds for ‘Lost World Zoo’, a menagerie of animals built using LEGO bricks from different periods in time. Original specimens from the collections have been displayed alongside these model animals. The Victorian street settings at Milestones Museum, Basingstoke, enabled a ‘back story’ of a Victorian explorer discovering an uncharted island where the animals still lived.

The railway station at Milestones has been transformed into an aquarium filled with aquatic animals, which provided the opportunity to display Cretaceous marine fossils in bubbles (perspex domes) in the ‘ticket office’. Lamp posts decorated with Meganeura, the giant dragonflies of the Carboniferous and large butterflies and other insects provide an introduction to the origins of insects and an opportunity to display some of the large foreign insect material from the collections.

Bones and teeth of Ice Age animals. (C) Julian Wright (HCCAMS)

Bones and teeth of Ice Age animals. (C) Julian Wright (HCCAMS)

Dodo bones, collected by George Clarke in the mid 19th century, inspired a flock of dodos and the advance marketing campaign featured a dodo made from LEGO, visiting various places around Hampshire and beyond. Other visits included a trip to see the Oxford dodo and a hot air balloon factory in Bristol to investigate flying!

Other models included a sabre-toothed cat, a giant moa bird (full height!), a huge turtle called Archelon made from DUPLO®, a neanderthal, a Megalosaurus head and a woolly mammoth built during the exhibition, as well as displays of smaller models and a spotter trail.

Giant moa made from LEGO. (C) Julian Wright (HCCAMS)

Each of the models have habitat, locality, size and extinction details on banners, with many of the banners displaying a QR code to video podcasts about the Natural Science collections. Throughout the exhibition, which runs until 27th April, and then splits to tour some of the smaller HCCAMS museums, sessions based on fossils, mammoths, giant dragonflies and neanderthals provide visitors with the opportunities to handle collections and to discover more about the collections.

The exhibition has provided a wonderful opportunity for the Keeper of Natural Sciences to exhibit areas of the collections which have rarely been seen on display, to devote time to researching the specimens, enable conservation work to take place and the great excitement of un-wrapping the models made from LEGO!!