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Yorkshire Naturalists Union Conference 2014

‘Museums and Nature – A Modern Perspective’ 

Notes Compiled by Kerry Netherway and Sarah West 

The 2014 YNU conference was a real success. The venue was really good and they provided a lovely hot and cold buffet lunch for us in their restaurant. We crammed twelve speakers in as well as discussion slots and although it would have been good to have more time to chat with everyone who attended. It was really good to hear the challenges, success stories and thoughts for the future which came from the talks.

It was great to hear that, despite cutbacks, Yorkshire museums are dedicated to maintaining their natural history collections and making them more accessible to inspire new generations of naturalists.  Leeds Discovery Centre's display of bird specimens by beak type - crackers, crunchers, dabblers, straws - is a great example of a fun approach to natural history to get school groups thinking about evolution and ecology.

New websites like iSpot mean that museums receive fewer queries about common species than they used to, but they still provide a valuable service in helping to identify rare and sometimes exotic species. Although Yorkshire museums have a strong local focus, their collections are not limited to Yorkshire species - they have international collections, and Leeds even has moon dust!

But how did they all manage to have a specimen of the last great bustard shot in the UK...?

It was clear that there are many opportunities for museums and naturalists to work more closely together in Yorkshire, on education, public events, species identification and curation of legacy collections, and a lot of networking was done over the lunch and refreshment breaks.

So if you missed the day, or just want to catch up with a point you heard, we have saved all the talks and some notes from the discussion sessions here.


Mike Denton

“this is what ID is all about, if you can’t find out yourself, ask someone for help”.

Colin Howes

  • Enquiries help curators feel in touch with the outside world.
  • In the 1970s, he made a map of where enquiries come from, most are from Doncaster but they are also from all across, most are from Doncaster but they are also from all across Yorkshire. However, in the 1970s, working on enquiries outside Doncaster was frowned upon.
  • There has been a shift in the types of enquiries, in the 1980s and 90s, grass snakes were commonly sent in, in the 2000s, all the reptile enquiries were exotic pets. People rang the museum as a ‘last resort’ as what they considered to be the ‘official channels’ e.g. the RSPCA, the police etc, could not help them.

Stuart Foster

  • There is lots of mis-information on the internet about foreign invertebrates, and books about these are hard to come by in the region, especially as libraries are closing.
  • Stuart asked where we can find specialists, now that many museum posts are being lost.

Will Watts

  • If museums are lucky enough to have natural history curators, they are now unlikely to be specialists, more likely to be naturalists. Many of them are geologists rather than naturalists!
  • Museum staff and volunteers should think widely about who can get involved, Scarborough Museum involved the local diving club.

Chris Yeates

  • Many museums are not in buildings designed for that purpose, and therefore there are issues with temperature control, pest control etc.
  • Chris suggested putting photos of mycological identification plates on the YNU website for others to use as reference. [Note, perhaps Flickr would be more appropriate?]

Michael Archer

  • Finding a place to store collections can be a complicated business. Michael made a plea for any museums interested in having some of his local aculeate hymenoptera collection to get in contact.

Bill Ely

  • It is important to put collectors name on any specimens, so that future naturalists can credit you with them!
  • By passing records onto recorders, when they go on the NBN Gateway, you can achieve immortality!

During the conference, several people were using the social media site Twitter. To see a summary of what was said go to

Download PDF Presentations Here- These are the speakers powerpoint presentations from the day as pdf files. Note they aren't the full text as spoken. Please click on any of them to view. There are three talks for which we have the full texts and these can be found in the list..