(c) Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Oxford University Museum of Natural History tackles sun damage to objects

Nicola Sullivan, 08.08.2016
Planning application in for £170,000 UV film for roof
The Oxford University Museum of Natural History has applied for planning permission to install a £170,000 ultraviolet (UV) film to its roof after objects were damaged by sunlight.

The museum has been stepping up its efforts to prevent objects being damaged by natural light since the early planning stages of a renovation project to restore its roof, which started in 2013.

An investigation by the architects and the University of Oxford’s estates department revealed that the original protective UV film that was installed on the roof badly degraded and would be very difficult to take off.

“The roof is extremely difficult to access because of its height and there were health and safety issues,” said Paul Smith, the museum's director.

“At that stage a decision was taken that it wasn’t thought that replacement UV film was a practical solution because it has to be replaced every ten years.”

A spokesperson for the University of Oxford said: “Given the possibility that a new film would end up in a similar condition to the previous one, it was decided instead to protect individual exhibit cases with UV film.”

When the museum reopened after the year-long refurbishment in July 2014 the UK experienced the hottest summer since 2006, which prompted Smith to compile a report highlighting how sunlight was damaging the museum’s exhibits and urging that action should be taken. This led to UV film being put on the display cases during the winter of 2014.

Among the items that were damaged or at risk were taxidermy items and skeletal material. According to Smith, in-house conservators have restored all damaged items and any at-risk items that were not in display cases have been moved into the museum’s stores.

Backed by Historic England, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History has submitted a planning application to reapply the latest technology UV film to the roof, which will take out 99.9% of the UV and will cut the light in the building by 32%. It is estimated that the new film will cost £170,000 to install.

“Since the museum reopened in 2014 we have monitored UV and heat levels closely, and after careful consideration of the potential impact on the few exhibits that are not in cases – including whale skeletons and organic taxidermy exhibits – we have applied for listed building consent to install a solar protective film to the roof of the museum.

“This will reduce the incoming UV radiation by 99.9%, adding further protection to the museum’s exhibits, none of which have thus far suffered any major deterioration but which are at risk over the longer term. The planned work should also provide a more comfortable experience for our visitors during the summer months,” said a spokesperson for the University of Oxford.

Smith said: “There is no longer any problem with UV levels in the cases but on the hottest days of the year it is clear that the temperatures in the museum do get quite warm and that was an issue for visitors as much as it for the collections.”