Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Supporting botanical collections. 

University of Leicester Herbarium volunteers
Image: L. Marsh
Sue Townsend (Biodiversity Learning Manager at the Field Studies Council and an active BSBI member who sits on our Meetings & Communications Committee) has been in touch over an issue I feel very strongly about - herbarium/natural history collections and how we use and value them in these cash-straitened times. 
Herbarium sheet exhibited at Birdfair.
Image: R. Benskin
Sue tells me that she is to chair a plenary meeting at the Linnean Society on 18th September entitled: 'The role of museums and collections in biological recording'. The meeting is open to all: you have to register, but it only costs £15 for a full day of talks, and lunch is included in the price. More info here, with a programme listing all the speakers and subjects. Looks like a really interesting mixture, and apparently Tom Humphrey is also offering a poster on Herbaria@Home
Sue said "I have been part of the Taxonomy and Systematics Committee, and a repeated cry was that museums are suffering from lack of curators, and collections are coming under more and more pressure. This is an opportunity to make the case that collections and type specimens play a vital role in recording." 

Yes, Sue, I agree. Geoffrey Hall and I gave a talk to the BSBI AEM last November on this very subject, called 'Herbarium collections under threat: how should BSBI respond nationally and can local BSBI groups help?' You can see the abstract here and the slides herehttp://www.antarctica.ac.uk/met/jds/cnhs/herbaria.pdf


Every herbarium sheet has a story behind it, as well as being a valuable scientific resource. The sheet in the image (above) shows one such example, with its all-important label (on right) stating where, when and by whom the specimen was found.


LTR herbarium volunteer demonstrates mounting to botany students.
Image: L. Marsh
And those of you who watched the recent video about New Journal of Botany will have heard Richard Gornall explain how much he relies on herbarium volunteers in his role as Curator of the collection  (LTR) at University of Leicester. 

With cutbacks biting, herbarium collections are in a precarious situation, so maybe this is the time for botanists to go that extra mile and actively support local herbaria this autumn.