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.

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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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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NatSCA Digital Digest – January

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

Welcome to the January edition of Digital Digest and a Happy New Year to you all.

I am dedicating this first Digital Digest to conferences, as calls for papers seem to be coming thick and fast. There are some fab events this year so get planning, submitting and registering.

NatSCA Conference & AGM 2020 .

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

Thursday 14th & Friday 15th May 2020. National Museum Wales, Cardiff.

The #NatSCA2020 conference invites proposals for presentations exploring the role of natural science collections in addressing or engaging with ‘big issue’ challenges, both in the environment and in society. For example:

  • Have you been involved in a research project using natural science collections to inform decision/policy makers on the implications of climate change, biodiversity loss or biosecurity threats?
  • Are you developing plans to reconceptualise and decolonise your collections?

We would like to hear from anyone and everyone who uses natural science collections to interact with important global topics.

Deadline for submission: 7th February. Click here for more info about how to submit your abstract.

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Provenance, Provenance, Provenance

Written by Yvette Harvey, Keeper of the Herbarium, Royal Horticultural Society, RHS Garden Wisley, Surrey.

When all is quiet, the crowds have long-gone home and the lights have been dimmed, the back rooms come alive for the curators who have long finished their official hours. For it is the time for tracking down rogue specimens, delving into the past or anticipating the future. What I am trying to say is that it is the time for research and the inevitable Miss Marple style adventures to be discovered when finding details to add to the current knowledge of a historic specimen. I say current because invariably details will have been lost or not even deemed worthy to have been recorded on labels, or written in a language so obscure as to not be recognised by the modern eye.

Perhaps lost details are just a phenomenon of the botanical world, but I suspect not, and I will explain what I am alluding to above using just a couple of examples of specimens made by a single collector, John Forbes, who undertook a voyage from 1822 until his death in 1823, almost 200 years ago.

John Forbes was one of the Horticultural Society of London’s (now the Royal Horticultural Society) early plant collectors. Head-hunted from the Liverpool Botanical Garden for his horticultural skills, he was employed to travel to Southern Africa to bring back plants to introduce to British gardens. He sailed with Captain Owen on the HMS Leven, a voyage tasked with making a survey of the east coast of Africa, visiting (in the following order): Madeira, Tenerife, Santa Cruz, Cape Verde Islands, Brazil, South Africa, Mozambique (Forbes is noted as the second botanist to collect there (Exell & Hayes: 130)), Madagascar, Comoros, Mozambique, South Africa and finally Mozambique (where Forbes died, 16th August 1823).

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Meet the NatSCA Committee – Kirsty Lloyd

Written by Kirsty Lloyd, BBSRC CryoArks Technician at the Natural History Museum, London.

What is your role on the NatSCA Committee?

I have recently become a member of the NatSCA committee after attending their conferences and events for several years.

Thus far I have taken on the role of tracking and supporting collections at risk. A natural sciences collection provides a perpetual physical snapshot of the natural world and holds important information which can help us better understand our planet today. However, this valuable resource is often the first to experience the strain of funding cuts, staff shortages and redundancies. Collections in long-term storage, especially those that exist outside of the public eye, are frequently underutilized and therefore undervalued.

NatSCA is trying to keep track of threats to collections and offer our support to those in need; with the intention of increasing awareness and acknowledgement of the value of natural sciences collection and the people with the skills to care for them. If you know of any collections that are at risk from staff loss or collection disposal, please get in touch at advocacy@natsca.org.

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Making the Most of What You’ve Got

Written by Dr Emma Nicholls, Deputy Keeper of Natural History, Horniman Museum and Gardens

The Collection

The Horniman Museum is the custodian of a collection of ca. 175,000 fossil specimens, collected by Walter Hellyer Bennett (1892-1971). A mining geologist and palaeontology enthusiast, Bennett collected somewhat indiscriminately, not pausing to favour geography, strata, or taxa, which makes it a collection of great interest to a wide variety of academics, and for other uses such as exhibitions and loans.

This huge collection was bequeathed to the Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society in the 1970s, where choice pieces were put out on open display whilst the rest remained stored in Bennett’s original wooden cabinets. It contains some beautiful material, such as this Isotelus gigas trilobite, and Eryon propinguus lobster.

A) Isotelus gigas, and Ordovician trilobite from the Trenton Limestone. B) Eryon propinquus, a Jurassic lobster from the Solnhofen Limestone. © Horniman Museum and Gardens.

The collection is approximately 10% vertebrate material, 85% invertebrates, and 5% plants and trace fossils. In case you are interested in particular taxonomic groups (as we are keen on facilitating research enquiries and visits… fyi) the invertebrates are mostly bivalves, brachiopods, cephalopods, corals, and gastropods, with a large variety of other taxonomic groups represented in small numbers as well (please do get in touch if you’re interested in getting more information), and the vertebrates are primarily conodonts, crocodilians, dinosaurs, fish (including sharks), ichthyosaurs, mammals, plesiosaurs, pterosaurs, and turtles. Geographically, around 87% of the material was collected within Europe, primarily from the UK (50%) and France (15%). A further 10% is from North America whilst small amounts of material were collected from across Africa, South America, the Middle East, Asia and Australasia. Notable sites include the Solnhofen Limestone and the Burgess Shale.

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