‘Legally obtained botanical and zoological specimens and associated information in order to interpret, evaluate and provide documentary evidence of Hampshire’s wildlife past and present.’
The collection consists of more than 200,000 specimens of mostly British origin. It is fairly comprehensive with certain groups, namely fungi, lichens, mosses, flowering plants, most insect orders, spiders and birds particularly well represented. Collections of more than just local significance include the herbaria of W A Bromfield, A W Westrup, N E G Cruttwell, F Rose, D E Allen, E Rothwell and R P Bowman; the Hart, Malmsbury and Crowley bird collections; the Earle shell collection; and the entomological collections of C H Dixon, S J Grove, I R Hudson, G F B Prior, E C L Simson and K G Blair. Although most material was collected during the 20th century, there is a significant number of 19th century specimens and, remarkably, a preserved herbarium specimen of Ling (Calluna vulgaris) has survived since 1737. Also of historical interest is a group of dodo bones collected by George Clark in 1865 from the island of Mauritius, an account of which was published in the journal Ibis in 1866.
Unlike most other museum disciplines all biological material requires some form of preparation to arrest biodegradation prior to incorporation into the collection. Often different preparation techniques are available for each specimen and the one chosen will usually be dictated by its intended function. Museums collect biological material as a resource to fulfil three quite separate functions; for display, for reference/training purposes and as voucher material. It is relatively unusual for a particular specimen to fulfil all three functions.
The preparation of biological specimens merely arrests decay and unless specimens are stored in suitable conditions they will continue to decay. Display conditions often expose specimens to the main agents of decay namely ultra-violet light, insect pests, and fluctuating temperature and humidity. Fortunately, unlike some other disciplines, the specimens themselves are rarely unique or irreplaceable although their provenance may be. It follows that the long-term display of scientifically important ‘type’ specimens and voucher material should be avoided since most biological display material ought to be considered expendable. There is an important philosophical distinction here between biology and most other museum disciplines.
Biological collections are potentially an extremely important reference resource if managed appropriately. Although many excellent monographs exist which enable the accurate identification of the more popular groups of wildlife (e.g. birds, mammals, butterflies, dragonflies and flowering plants) there are many less well known, even in the relatively well-studied British Isles. For these, identification keys are often unavailable, out-of-date, difficult to use, or scattered through the scientific literature and the only practical means of identification is by reference to another accurately identified specimen. This is especially the case for many groups of invertebrates and lower plants. It is considered entirely appropriate that a British reference collection be established for these groups within the Museums Service since much of the material already exists. With improved collection management and public access to the collection, Hampshire’s naturalists will have the benefit of a high quality resource for site evaluation and other purposes which is unavailable elsewhere in Hampshire or indeed in adjacent counties. It also has great potential as a training resource for raising the level of biological expertise and awareness within the county, a particular priority of the Hampshire Biodiversity Information Centre (HBIC) partnership.
Biological specimens may provide documentary evidence to support literature or other records and observations (e.g. site surveys, impact assessments, ecological studies). They allow for species identification to be checked or reassessed. Such specimens are also the products of an environment at a particular point in time and thus may provide important data for long-term analysis. In this context, it is now extremely important that ‘DNA-friendly’ preservation techniques are used wherever possible.
Appropriately preserved biological material in the following categories:
'Legally obtained palaeontological and geological specimens, with associated stratigraphical information to interpret, evaluate and provide documentary evidence of Hampshire’s physical structure and ancient biology.’
The geological collection includes over 29,000 catalogued rocks and fossil specimens from the Cretaceous and Paleogene periods of Hampshire. These include comprehensive collections of fossil vertebrates including teeth & bones of sharks, rays, teleost fish, reptiles including crocodiles, turtles, dinosaurs, birds and mammals. Fossil invertebrates include mollusca, echinoids, crustaceans, corals and many different examples of palaeocommunities preserved both through and on the surface of matrix blocks. These collections contain noteworthy additions to the geological record made in the past by William Curtis, Herbert Druitt & George Willis. Other important, more recently acquired collections include those made by Carlos, Cooper, Godwin, Jurd, Jennings, Kemp, Perry and Pullman-Endean. The collection also contains numerous British fossils, rocks & minerals collected more than 100 years ago. In 2003 HCCMS accepted a significant transfer of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Cretaceous & Paleogene fossils from the School of Ocean & Earth Science, University of Southampton, belonging to the St John Burton, Lucas, Sims, West and Morely Collections.
Geological specimens require good conservation practices of preparation and storage particularly as the available fossil resource is finite and therefore in certain cases is irreplaceable. Geological specimens offer material for display, reference and education, and can be of unique individual or stratigraphical importance. Therefore with these issues in mind, display specimens have been carefully chosen in favour of quality and abundance.
Well-provenanced geological specimens collected for display, reference, research and education provide important zonal information. Individual zonal indicators and the associated stratigraphical information can obviously support the existing geological record. But more importantly, these specimens can provide potentially new, previously unrecorded data on species evolution, duration and distribution. To confirm species distribution it will occasionally be essential to collect comparative specimens and geological samples from outside Hampshire.
To increase awareness and knowledge of Hampshire’s natural environment the HCCMS will continue to collect type, figured, published and other well-documented reference specimens from Hampshire and from other areas where Hampshire’s geology is exposed. Specimens rescued from vulnerable, eroding, temporary and specially commissioned hand/machine exposed sites in the county will be regularly collected. High quality Hampshire items for display, research and education, including books, manuscripts, photographs, maps and equipment related to earth science in the county will continue to be collected. The personalia of geologists having strong links with the county will also be collected. Fundamental issues connected with earth heritage conservation demand that basic collecting procedures should be followed, and it is therefore considered to be good practice to support key parts of English Nature’s ‘Position statement on fossil collecting’ (revised 2000) (Appendix 7).
Natural Science: Other collections in the region
A recent survey of the collections of museums in Hampshire and some adjacent counties (Southern Museums Agency 2001) confirms that only Portsmouth Museums and Records Service, the Museum of Reading and the Museum of Isle of Wight Geology hold significant natural science collections and are actively acquiring new material. In addition, large collections are also maintained by Haslemere Educational Museum and Dorset County Museum which are in neighbouring counties not covered by the survey.
All of the above organisations have been involved in the consultation process during the development of the Natural Science Collecting Policy. Every effort has been made to minimise potential conflicts of interest and overlapping responsibilities when new material is acquired.