Reflecting on a Collections Move During the Pandemic, the Royal Horticultural Society Herbarium one year on.

Written by Clare Booth-Downs, Herbarium Curator, Royal Horticultural Society Herbarium.

Moving On Up, To Move On Out

The Royal Horticultural Society Herbarium (RHS), which holds approximately 150,000 specimens and associated ancillary collections, had outgrown its original storage space.  The building of a new dedicated science and collections centre, RHS Hilltop, which opened in late June 2021, provided a solution to this. Hilltop, the home of gardening science, includes a larger, purpose built facility, the 1851 Royal Commission Herbarium.

The Laboratory, RHS Wisley, Surrey. Image by Clare Booth-Downs. © Royal Horticultural Society.
Interior of the original RHS Herbarium showing the overspill on top of the cabinets. Image: Yvette Harvey.

Increasing the capacity of the herbarium was vital as the collection is expected to expand at a fast pace over the next few years.  With a full time plant collector now in place, the RHS’ ultimate aim is to hold a specimen of every species and cultivar of garden plant growing in the U.K. It is estimated this will be a collection numbering 400,000 specimens by 2050.

This repository will act as a reference point for gardeners, breeders, students and researchers as well as for ‘non-traditional’ herbarium visitors, for example, artists and designers looking for inspiration for fabrics and jewellery.  This is alongside one of the Society’s own research foci, as described by Professor Alistair Griffiths, RHS Director of Science & Collections, “In the UK, we’ve got a massive diversity of cultivated plants, originating from around the world, and all have potential for nature-based solutions.  We’re going to work towards a database of the garden plants and their uses from an environmental, and health and wellbeing perspective”.

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New loose taxidermy storage at Canterbury Museums

The following is a review by Philip Hadland, of a storage project undertaken by the Canterbury Museums:


Much of Canterbury Museums taxidermy collection is loose taxidermy and is stored in shelved cupboards without any additional physical protection from handling, movement, or insect pest damage. A pilot project was carried out in 2013/14 to develop a new storage system for this section of the taxidermy collection to improve its care and management.


Aims of the Project

  1. Improve storage conditions and long term care
  2. Improve the management of the collection
  3. Free up storage space


Evaluation of Potential Storage Methods

To get a feel for what might work in practice I sent an email to the NATSCA Mailing List asking for ideas on what works well and what works not so well. Based on the plentiful feedback I received, I evaluated the advantages and disadvantages of the methods suggested.

From this initial research it is clear that there is no single method that can satisfy the needs of the great variety of sizes and shapes of taxidermy that exist in museum collections. Some methods are of course better than others in satisfying similar aims but cost is also an issue.

It was decided that a method based on Really Useful boxes was the best solution. The main reasons were the amount of time needed to prepare each box was minimal, there were very good offers available to acquire the boxes cheaply at the time and the sizes available matched up very well to the storage cupboards.




Plastazote was first cut to fit the boxes. Then the bases of specimens were drawn around in pen with the specimen number written alongside and orientation to enable easy identification of what goes where. A list was also kept of the contents of each box.


The foam was cut using a Stanley knife and affixed to the bottom of the box using masking tape.
The birds were then carefully slotted into place and the boxes were labelled and the location documentation was updated.






Resource breakdown and cost

Really useful boxes x 10 £110
Approximate cost of Plastazote used £20
Fixings and adhesives £1
Mothballs £4
Total material cost £135
Curatorial time (including planning) £300
Volunteer time (for photography and documentation 10 hours
Total cost £435



127 items of taxidermy have been rehoused and are well supported in robust, waterproof and conservation standard materials that are easily moved without the birds toppling and they are transportable. This will limit damage to the collections through preventing unnecessary handling, toppling, and pest attack – increasing their long term care. Each specimen now has a specific box location linked to the database so that it can be found easily when required.


I’d like to thank my colleagues and the NatSCA community for their help with this project.