Survey on natural sciences collections in UK museums to support research

How can natural sciences collections in UK museums support nature conservation and ecological research, policy and management effectively?

UK museums contain roughly 140 million natural history specimens (c.80 million in the Natural History Museum, and 60 million in other museums). Most of these were collected from 1800 onwards, with the majority dating from c.1850–1950. These collections include mammal and bird study skins, taxidermy mounts, bones, pinned insects, dried molluscs and other invertebrates, dried plants, lichens and fungi, specimens on microscope slides and preserved in alcohol/formalin, as well as fossils, rocks and minerals. The great majority of these specimens have data on where they were collected, when and who by.

A great deal of research use is made of these collections, especially in national and university museums, but many collections are underused.

Aim of project

This project seeks to understand what researchers, policy makers, wildlife managers and curators consider the research use and potential of collections to be.


The results will help establish a collaborative agenda for collections use, development, and training for researchers, policy makers, practitioners and curators, and help support the ongoing usefulness of these collections as a research infrastructure in support of nature conservation, ecological research, and environmental management.

This project was initiated by Henry McGhie, Head of Collections & Curator of Zoology, Manchester Museum, University of Manchester, and is supported by funding from the British Ecological Society.

How research will be used

Research will form the basis of reports and publication[s] in 2019–20, and to make recommendations to the museum sector, BES, funders and research agencies/councils. Data will not be attributable to individuals or organisations without their consent, nor will it be shared with third parties. Data will be stored securely and archived by the University of Manchester.

Benefits / impacts of this study

This study aims to have positive benefits/impacts for:

-Environmental scientists and nature conservationists, by helping better understand how museum collections can support relevant research questions, and making collections available, usable and useful.

-Museum workers, by helping them better understand ecologists and nature conservationists’ perceptions of the potential of natural sciences collections.

-Funders from an ecology/nature conservation/science perspective, and a museum perspective, by helping ensure that collections provide, and are developed as, a robust, sustainable research infrastructure.

-Biodiversity and habitats, by strengthening the research base for informed research, policy and management.

Take part

The questionnaire will take between 10 and 20 minutes to complete. You can close and come back to the questionnaire at any time and your responses will have been saved, as long as you are using the same computer or device.

Go to the questionnaire

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