Natural History Museum plans huge collection move - Museums Association

Natural History Museum plans huge collection move

Project is part of scheme to develop new research centre in partnership with the University of Reading
Cabinets of ocean bottom sediment collections
Cabinets of ocean bottom sediment collections Trustees of the Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum is planning its largest collections move for more than a century as part of a scheme to develop a new research centre in partnership with the University of Reading.

The new centre will house the museum’s vast mammal collections, non-insect invertebrates (such as corals, crustaceans, molluscs, and worms), molecular collections and ocean bottom sediments, totalling more than 27 million specimens. The facility will also hold more than 5,500 metres of library and archive material. This equates to around a third of the museum’s collection of more than 80 million objects, making the relocation its largest collections move since the 1880s.

The centre, which is expected to be complete by 2026, will be created at the Thames Valley Science Park, which is owned and managed by the university. The aim is to deliver a low carbon building.

“The University of Reading has a world-class reputation for teaching and research and there is enormous scope for collaboration on shared areas of scientific specialisms from climate science to agriculture and forestry, biodiversity loss and emerging diseases,” said Doug Gurr, the director of the Natural History Museum.

“We look forward to joining the lively community of ambitious, knowledge-based organisations at Thames Valley Science Park and forging closer relationships with institutions already based there – and of course reuniting with the British Museum through its Archaeological Research Collection [in Shinfield].”

Moving specimens to the new facility will free up display space at the organisation’s museum in London’s South Kensington where a range of galleries are not accessible to the public because they are being used to store collections.


The development will also enable the museum to move items that are at risk of deterioration and irreparable damage because they are housed in unsuitable buildings to facilities that meet international collection standards.

The stored items will be in a safe and accessible environment and will be digitally available for researchers all over the world, strengthening the UK’s position in finding solutions to the planetary emergency, said the museum. As part of the project, the organisation is planning to accelerate and enhance the digitisation of its collection

There is significant demand for data from the museum’s collections. More than 5 million specimens have been digitised and released onto the museum’s data portal. While this is only 6% of the collection, more than 30 billion records have been downloaded, with more than 1,700 scientific publications citing Natural History Museum data. 

The museum’s digitised collections have already helped establish the baseline plant biodiversity in the Amazon, found wheat crops that are more resilient to climate change, and support research into the potential zoonotic origins of Covid. 

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is a key funder for the research centre as part of a UK Government-wide priority to increase investment in research and development.

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