The Museums Association (MA) recently held their annual Conference and Exhibition at the EICC. Reported to be the largest gathering of museums and heritage professionals in Europe, it showcases suppliers, hosts workshops and various meetings. Darren Mann of the HEC was there as a speaker to present a talk entitled ‘The Elephant in the Room‘ which tackles some of the difficult questions that are currently being raised about the future of natural history collections in the UK.
|Elephant hawkmoth, Deilephila elpenor|
What questions are those? Well, here is the background in a nutshell :
“Natural history collections are under threat but are vital for taxonomic research, environmental monitoring and education.
The number of specialist curators is declining, so should collections be redistributed to centres of excellence or are there other solutions for orphaned collections?”
The main question that is raised by this is- How do we prevent the loss of these collections? and it is one that is very much on the minds of all natural history curators at the moment as we hear of more collections being ‘moth-balled’ (put away into storage) and the loss of curators through redundancies or down-sizing, leaving many collections without people to care for them, interpret them or make them available for research.
The biggest threat of course, comes to the collections themselves which may become damaged or lost altogether through poor storage and lack of care. For example, any item with fur, feather or chitin (e.g. taxidermy mounts or insect specimens) are open to attack from a host of pests including the one most reviled by curators, Anthrenus, which whilst being a rather pretty little beetle, views an insect collection as an assemblage of tasty snacks.
|The Varigated Carpet Beetle, Anthrenus verbasci (Linnaeus, 1767).|
|An example of the damage that Anthrenus can cause to an insect collection. This level of damage can occur within 2-4 years of a collection being ‘moth-balled’ if it is not in secure pest-proof storage or being regularly checked by a trained curator.|
One thought on “The Elephant in the Room”
It is disgusting that the Billionaires of the world will still shell out an (affordable) fortune for a dusty old painting in order to show how cultured they are (or to ameliorate the guilt that they feel for having exploited the rest of the world through arms dealing or social and economic fragmentation and environmental 'rape' in the name of the markets) but will not fund the essential care of the collections that underpin our understanding of life on earth. Society needs a shift in morality where philanthropy is not merely a reflection of what is wrong with society (e.g. conspicuous consumption) but an attempt to be part of the solution to fixing environmental problems (e.g. funding the curation of valuable environmental data). YoursTitanus