Holy rhubarb leaf at Abergavenny Museum

Linking natural science collections

Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund case study

Federation of Museums & Galleries of Wales

Funding round:

Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund, round three


Linking natural collections is a partnership project, led by the Federation of Museums and Art Galleries in Wales, to link natural science collections in Wales, was funded in round three and, at the time of writing, is two years into its three year term.

Their application was successful because it tackles a significant problem - of collections knowledge and use - with a great spread of partners.

Project manager:

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Sarah Daly

About the project:

Where would you go to find an emperor penguin from Shackleton’s Antarctic expeditions? How about a holy rhubarb leaf or a two headed lamb? Perhaps you prefer a tiny collection of seaweed pressed into the pages of a book made inside a scallop shell?

These gems and many more are housed in museums across the nation.

Some are on display but many were hidden from view until the Linking natural science collections in Wales partnership project brought them out into the light of day.

It has brought together natural science specialists from Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales (NMW) and curators, educators and volunteers from 18 partner museums.

Together they are lifting the lid, sometimes literally, on a magical world of natural wonders. These include rare fossils, stuffed animals, birds’ eggs, butterflies, herbariums, rocks, delicate illustrations and much, much more.

Linking natural collections has a big agenda. It is part of a series of projects which view all the collections housed in museums, archives and libraries across Wales as part of our collective heritage as a distributed national collection.

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When the museum material has all been reviewed, it will form an online catalogue, on People’s Collection Wales, which can be explored by the public, as well as an exhibition which will tour across Wales and be available online.

Learning materials will also be produced to allow museums to share these wonderful objects with school children, families and interested adults.

All the partner museums have now had natural science collection reviews to assess the scope, quality and condition of their collections.

The project is showing that museums across Wales are home to some breathtakingly beautiful objects that illustrate the diversity of life in this tiny nation and beyond.

These collections can shed light on how that life has evolved, show how it is still changing in the modern world, and even how our actions might affect it in the future. It is also highlighting issues that need addressing in relation to health and safety, research potential and conservation needs.

The project has a real focus on sharing skills.

Jane Henderson, a senior lecturer at Cardiff University and federation committee member, said: “A key driver for this project was the fragile nature of these collections and the lack of specialist staff to care for them.

The project has support from NMW, which provides specialist reviewers, CyMAL, which directs training at this area, and the People’s Collection Wales, which brings collections together online, benefitting museums and giving public access.

“An important focus has been the emphasis on partnership working, training and generating ideas.

"Several partner museums are already displaying their natural science collections in innovative ways or by entering collaborations with artists.

"This demonstrates a new confidence in utilising their natural science collections in new ways.”

In addition, once the collections are available online, it will be easier to locate relevant material, whether for exhibitions, a school project, or academic research about local biodiversity.

The project, which is running until February 2016, is now focusing on putting together a touring exhibition of spectacular or significant natural science objects from across Wales.

Work has already begun on the online collection, with a trial website hosted by People's Collection Wales.

Eventually this will provide a full, accessible, bilingual record of the material held in the partner museums that can be used by researchers and learners to gain a better understanding of the natural history of all areas of Wales.

The aim is that this record can also be tagged, through volunteer projects, with common names, for instance of plant and animal species in both Welsh and English.

And, if you are interested, the emperor penguin resides at Cyfarthfa Castle in Merthyr Tydfil, the rhubarb leaf is in the collections of Abergavenny Museum, the two-headed lamb is on display at Llanidloes Museum in Powys and the scallop shell seaweed herbarium is in the stores at Carmarthen Museum.