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Press release

Mass migration: millions of insects on the move at the Natural History Museum

Twenty eight million insects and spiders are on the move at the Natural History Museum before their current home is demolished to make way for a new £65.9 million extension. The move is the latest stage in the Museum's Darwin Centre project, which will provide a secure home for vulnerable plant and insect collections and give the public the chance to explore them for the first time. Until the new building is completed in 2008, the insects, together with the 120 scientists that work with them, will have temporary homes in other parts of the Museum and at a special South London storage facility.

The Museum's insect specimens have been brought together over the past 300 years and were collected by scientists including Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace and Sir Hans Sloane. The insects range in size from the barely visible fairy fly, Alaptus magnanimus, (with a wingspan of 0.02cm) to the world's largest moth, Thysania agrippina, from Central and South America (with a wingspan of 30cm). The largest specimen to move will be a 105 x 42cm hornet nest (Vespa crabro crabroniformis ) from China.

'It's a huge project and an incredible responsibility - the specimens we are handling are unique and extremely fragile', said Professor Nigel Fergusson, Museum entomologist and one of the people in charge of co-ordinating the move. 'The insect collections form an irreplaceable 'library of life' supporting research on human health, biodiversity, conservation and the environment around the world.'

The Darwin Centre will safeguard historically unique and scientifically irreplaceable insect and plant specimens for future generations. The antiquated conditions in the old Entomology building, designed in the 1930s and completed in the 1950s, were putting the collections at risk from attack by pests, humidity and fire. Darwin Centre Phase Two, which will occupy the same site, will keep the collections safe in a seven-storey environmentally controlled 'cocoon'.

More than £59.6 million has been pledged to build Darwin Centre Phase Two and a major fundraising campaign is underway to reach the final target. Major supporters include the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Wellcome Trust, the Garfield Weston Foundation and GlaxoSmithKline. Phase One, housing the Museum's 22 million zoological specimens stored in spirit, opened in September 2002 and was crucial to the Museum winning the Gold Award for Large Visitor Attraction of the Year at the Excellence in England Awards 2004.


The move in numbers
This is the largest number of specimens the Museum has ever attempted to move:

  • 28 million specimens, held in more than 140,000 drawers
  • 32,000 drawers of slides
  • 7,250 cabinets that hold the drawers
  • a library of 75,000 bound volumes and 33,000 drawings
  • 120 staff, their furniture and computers alongside laboratory equipment and large freezers
  • 450 cages, similar to the carts used by supermarkets for delivering bulky items, are being used
  • the move will last 18 weeks
  • the collections are moving to seven destinations within the Museum plus a storage facility in South London
  • the Museum's Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) collections, about 14 million specimens, are moving to South London in three to five van loads per day

Ends

Notes for editors
Winner of the 2004 Large Visitor Attraction of the Year award, the Natural History Museum is also a world-leading science research centre. Through its collections and scientific expertise, the Museum is helping to conserve the extraordinary richness and diversity of the natural world with groundbreaking projects in 68 countries. The Museum is committed to encouraging public engagement with science. This has been greatly enhanced by the Darwin Centre, a major new initiative, which offers visitors unique access behind the scenes of the Museum. Phase One of the project opened to the public in 2002 and Phase Two is scheduled to open in 2008.

For further information please telephone +44 (0)20 7942 5654 or email press@nhm.ac.uk