Monday, 3 November 2014

The erosion of collections-based science

The latest issue of The Plant Press has just been published - it's a quarterly newsletter from the Dept. of Botany and the U.S. National Herbarium. Although its main focus is on American botany, this article on 'The Erosion of Collections-based Science: alarming trend or co-incidence?' includes an update on what's happening at Kew and offers an overview of how botanic gardens, herbaria and botanical institutions across America are responding to budget cuts.

VC55 Herbarium volunteers
The article makes depressing reading about large botanical institutions, and many of us are already aware of smaller UK herbaria experiencing difficulties. In a presentation given at the BSBI's 2012 Annual Exhibition Meeting, Geoffrey Hall - then Curator of Leicestershire Museum's Natural History Collection (LSR)  - highlighted threats faced by British and Irish herbaria and I outlined how local BSBI members were attempting to reverse the trend in VC55's other herbarium at the University of Leicester (LTR). 

VC55 Herbarium volunteers
If you are one of the 36 people who have booked a Herbarium tour at this year's AEM, you will be able to see for yourselves how we got on and how a few hours each week volunteering in your local herbarium can start to make a real difference. Interest in these tours has been overwhelming and we have had to slot in a third tour to fit everyone in.

If you didn't manage to book a Herbarium tour, you can still get a flavour of why herbaria are so well loved by those of us who frequent them if you check out the VC55 exhibit at the AEM. It is provisionally entitled Botany in VC55: past present and future. A suggestion that we call it Standing on the Shoulders of Giants was vetoed because some of the giants are still with us and would be embarrassed at such hyperbole. One of them, Clive Stace, is giving the headline talk at the AEM, so you can judge for yourselves, and you may spot a few others milling around on the day! 

The VC55 exhibit will also include items from LSR, assembled by Geoffrey who is now sadly its former curator and can tell you more about the fate of the collection. Ask any VC55 member on the day if you want to hear about the amazing and much-missed workshops and talks Geoffrey used to run, using items from the collection. 

On a brighter note, the VC55 Herbarium Team is looking forward to welcoming you on 22nd November and, as well as the three tours, we are also hosting a Euphrasia Workshop in the morning with Chris Metherell, using only herbarium specimens to trial the ID keys in the forthcoming Euphrasia Handbook. We still have a few spaces on this workshop, so please email meetings@bsbi.org if you are coming to the AEM and would like to put your name down.