Looking after the beetles


I’ve just read a review (Guardian 24.7.10) of Norman Maclean (ed.) Silent Summer: The State of Wildlife in Britain and Ireland (Cambridge 2010). Many of you will know that Silent Spring was the title of a book published by Rachel Carson in 1962 which led to major successful campaigns to ban the use of agricultural pesticides which, the book revealed, were threatening species with extinction in North America and Britain. But now of course the natural world is under even greater threat.

One of the arguments of the book is that if you look after the beetles the barn owls will look after themselves. This puts me in mind of the collection of beetles on display at Blackburn Museum, protected by a cloth covering the cases at the top of the stairs.

I had the grim thought that if it is too late (as some believe) to save our wildlife then at least we do have millions of specimens preserved in museums. I doubt that this was a conscious motivation of the collectors that Mark is uncovering, although capturing and pining down in case of some kind of loss may have been an influence. The question is, how can museums help prevent such a disaster? For that matter, how can I prevent it?  Can we do more than present the reminders of our loss?

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1 Comment

Filed under Museums, Objects

One response to “Looking after the beetles

  1. Mark Steadman

    I think here Myna touches upon a very important role/responsibility that museums with natural science collections have. Often such collections include specimens of now endangered species, sometimes also of extinct species. If such material is made accessible to scientists it can provide what would otherwise be hard to get data. Botanical specimens, for example, retain a record of nitrogen levels when collected. With many museums holding herbaria that were collected during the industrialisation of Great Britain, they can provide a rare insight into the changing environments of the past and their affect on the natural world. We’re doing something on this subject as part of the reinterpretation of Rossendale’s natural history gallery.

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