NatSCA Digital Digest – September

Compiled by Olivia Beavers, Assistant Curator of Natural Science at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.

Welcome to the September 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

What to do

As we move into the new school year, The Grantham Climate Art Prize is calling for messages of hope from young people on climate change – ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow this November. This is an opportunity for young people aged 12-25 to raise awareness for our precious habitats and send a message of hope through designing a mural to go onto walls across the UK – and be in for a chance to win £250 cash!  The theme of this competition is Biodiversity Loss and Climate Change. Click here to learn more – entries by 24.09.21.

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Wild About Portsmouth – Discovering Portsmouth’s Natural History Collection

Written by Christine Taylor, Curator of Natural History, Portsmouth Museums

In March 2018 Portsmouth City Council was awarded a £79,700 grant to deliver a ‘Wild about Portsmouth project in order to raise the profile of the city’s Natural History collection. In addition to appointing a curator and an assistant, the project enables the development of natural history advocates and a team of volunteers to work on and promote the collection. The project also aims to engage with people in a variety of ways, from family activities to specialist workshops, with the view of participants helping to inform priorities for collection development and new displays.

As a curator with over 20 years’ experience in Hampshire, I have always been aware of the collection but had very little knowledge of it. The last Natural History Curator was 10 years ago and, apart from the occasional request, little had been done to develop the collection. An initial overview showed that the collection was (mainly) in good condition, packed into archival and museum quality boxes awaiting rediscovery.

One of the first tasks was to get an idea of the scope of the collections and their associated collectors. Another task was to recruit volunteers to assist with rearranging the collections to get them into taxonomic order and to catalogue them or update the Modes database with provenance data. To date 10 volunteers have been recruited and are currently working on the geology, shell and botany collections. Once the entomology collections have rehoused over the next few months (the cabinets are currently stored side-on making access to them rather difficult), volunteers will be recruited to re-stage, re-organise and catalogue them.

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Rocks of Death and Fizzing Fossil Fish

In what must surely be one of the most excitingly themed workshops known to scientists, Monica Price (formerly of Oxford University Museum of Natural History) and Jana Horak (Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales) recently ran a day-long workshop called Hazards in Geological Collections. We’re not talking hazards like booklice eating your specimen labels, we’re talking The Big Guns. It was Christmas come early for the attendees who had gathered from the ‘four corners’ of the British Isles to learn what villainstreasures might be lurking in their collections.

Hazards in geological collections take many forms. © Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Each of the three tables of eager minds was presented with a box of unlabelled specimens from which to try and list the potential hazards. After a very thorough health and safety briefing, we all leaned cautiously in towards the box. Decked out in nitrile gloves and face masks, we were the picture of professionalism. The excitement of the workshop was definitely heightened by the real, LIVE specimens in front of us. Had any of us had been stupid enough to open up and breathe in the contents of an asbestos tube, or rub ourselves all over with a toxic mineral, we could have done ourselves some serious harm. But as it was, the 20 or so geologists in the room were suitably well-behaved.

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Museums Unleashed: Using traditional and social media to reach audiences, build communities, and transform hearts and minds

This year’s NatSCA conference at Bristol’s M Shed brilliantly championed the ways in which TV, storytelling, and social media can engage and inspire the public with fantastic natural history content, and make museum collections come alive. Wendy Darke, head of the BBC Natural History Unit, opened the conference with a moving presentation on the enduring power of the BBC Natural History Unit to produce jaw-dropping films that stir our hearts, like Life Story and Frozen Planet, versus shows like the Lost Land series that appeal to those of us who want to understand more about nature and expand our minds.

The equally inspiring Sara Zeidler, Social Media Manager at BBC Earth, discussed how the team have built an impressive global community of 4.85 million fans across six social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. The popularity of the Natural History Unit filming in all corners of the globe has allowed the public to connect to the researchers and filmmakers, places and wildlife being filmed in real time through #EarthCapture and #Earthonlocation. Sara emphasised that nature content that is positive, surprising,and emotional provides the best hooks for audiences.

As an archaeologist who is passionate about geology, Prof. Iain Stewart is one of my heroes of popular science. A passionate academic, like Prof. Alice Roberts, he has successfully communicated the stories of geoscience for over a decade, from Earth: The Power of the Planet, to the more recent Rise of the Continents. In his talk, ‘50 Shades of Grey’, he explained that geology works on TV because it deals with ‘Big Histories’ that ultimately help tell our human story. Iain passionately believes in science for society, and raised the important question of how to maintain meaningful public engagement with increasingly disparate audiences in a world where the Internet has overtaken TV as the main source for the dissemination of scientific knowledge.

Prof. Iain Stewart explains the continuum of science programming. (Image: Anthony Roach)

Prof. Iain Stewart explains the continuum of science programming. (Image: Anthony Roach)

Iain’s research into audiences explained that many of us fanboys and fangirls are of course continually engaged in science programmes, events, and activities. We also see the benefits of science in solving societal issues. But Iain raised the strong need to find new ways to reach those who are disengaged in science (either because they lack interest, do not see the relevance in their lives, or perhaps just don’t make the time for science), and move away from ‘disasters and dinosaurs’ TV.

The second half of the conference displayed the shared passion of museum professionals who were inspired by their collections and wanted to ‘be where their audiences were’. @oisinthedeer at Warwickshire Museum was a superb example of how museum mascots can be used as a springboard for a museum looking outwards to its audiences. The composite Irish Deer skeleton has been at the centre of a successful twitter campaign that has given the museum a voice to promote its collections, events, and activities, and ‘build the buzz’.

I enjoyed hearing from Kate Mortimer about the National Museum of Wales’ joined up approach to social media to improve the visibility of their amazing collections. The use of ‘tweet guides’ has allowed colleagues across the museum to co-ordinate the scheduling of tweets, such as #MolluscMonday and blog posts about specimens. My personal favourite being that of the conservation of Arthur the Arthropleura. Kate explained the added longevity that Storify brings to their social media platforms through curating particular tweets and posts. This strategy has enabled colleagues to build deeper public engagement with their diverse and beautiful collections.

Arthur the Arthropleura visits the impressionists (Image source:

Arthur the Arthropleura visits the impressionists (Image source:

My overall favourite for the innovative use of social media to engage audiences with collections projects was ‘Objects, Meet World!’ by the Horniman Museum and Gardens. Rachel Jennings explained the benefits of Tumblr as a micro-blogging platform to upload multimedia object content during the Horniman’s major review of their anthropology collections. The platform is quick and easy to use, and allows users to put together an interesting story about the object in a few sentences. As a result of their sterling work, the site has generated interest world-wide, gaining a whopping 39,000 followers in under three years. And if you’re a fan of sticks, just check out their ‘Stick of the Week’.

Thanks to Bristol Museums and NatSCA for organising a brilliant conference and set of collections tours, and I look forward to seeing what museums will unleash next year!

Anthony Roach, NHM

NatSCA Digital Digest

Welcome to the weekly digest of posts from around the web with relevance to natural science collections. We hope you find this useful and if you have any articles that you feel would be of interest, please contact us at

1. Blog: Six Questions for a Geological Curator

Geological Curators’ Group


‘This is the first post in our series where we ask geological curators around the country a series of questions that allow them to advocate the collections in their charge. This post is kindly provided by Dean Lomax who is Contract Assistant Curator of Palaeontology at the Doncaster Museum & Art Gallery, working on the CIRCA Project which is funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. He is the author of two books, Fossils of the Whitby Coast and Dinosaurs of the British Isles.’

Six Questions for a Geological Curator

2. Article: EU Makes it Easier to Return Looted Cultural Objects

Patrick Steel, Museums Association


‘The European Parliament has approved changes to a directive aimed at helping EU countries organise the return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from one member state to another. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) believes will see a rise in requests for returns across the EU as a result’

EU Makes it Easier to Return Looted Cultural Objects

3. Job Vacancy: Curatorial Assistant

The Grant Museum of Zoology, Department of Public and Cultural Engagement


‘Full time until July 2015, thereafter it will be part time, 18.25 hours per week, 50% FTE, unless further funding is identified.

The curatorial assistant post will be based primarily in the Grant Museum of Zoology, one of the foremost zoology museums in the UK, with a growing reputation for innovative and experimental work.

The job will involve working closely with the collections to make them accessible to UCL and external audiences and improve their storage, documentation and use; as well as contributing to the museum’s public programmes and online activities. Details can be found on the UCL jobs page.

Deadline: 15th June. For information about the post please contact the Museum Manager, Jack Ashby –  and for information about the application procedure contact UCL Museums’ Administrator Lauren Sadler –’

Curatorial Assistant Job Vacancy

Compiled by Emma-Louise Nicholls, NatSCA Blog Editor