The Museum has more than 80 million specimens, ranging in size from microbes to whales.
The majority of the Museum's collections are based at South Kensington and Wandsworth in London, while the Natural History Museum at Tring in Hertfordshire is home to the world-class research and collections of the Museum's Bird Group.
For information on visiting the collections or borrowing specimens, please see the Accessing the collections section.
To allow efficient retrieval, the collection is arranged in systematic order where possible. The material is preserved in diverse ways, including:
- DNA samples
- microscope slides
- scanning electron microscope stubs
- frozen tissue
- pinned collections
- skeletal material
- wet-preserved in alcohol
- mounted skins and articulated skeletons
Collections management objectives
The Museum's collections management objectives are to:
- maintain the collections of the Museum as a relevant and comprehensive research infrastructure of world importance,
- develop the infrastructure so that the range of the collections is enhanced and maintained for future generations,
- continue to provide national and international access to the specimens and knowledge contained in the collections,
- maintain and develop the scientific scholarship and expertise of the departmental staff who research and manage the collections.
Sources of material
Collecting is mainly done through fieldwork relating to active research programmes and consultancy contracts. These activities contribute specimens to almost the whole range of the department’s collections and result in a more focused range of material than previously added.
Material seized by HM Revenue and Customs provides another source for the collections. Although not all such material is appropriate for the collections, there is enough to warrant the development of more formal links with HM Revenue and Customs. The use of new non-destructive sampling - photography and forensic sampling - may be relevant in supporting such efforts.
The collections are enhanced by the acquisition of significant donations from institutions and individuals.
Acquisitions, bequests and donations
The Museum acts as a custodian of its collections for the nation and the international scientific community. This is great responsibility and staff must carefully consider any item before it is accepted for the collection. We normally only acquire material that has a provenance - full details of where and when it was collected.
Considering bequesting material?
If you are considering bequesting material to the Museum, please contact us so that we can help assess your generous offer, as we cannot accept gifts automatically. Please do not send or bring specimens to the Museum without an appointment.
Transfer of title
When a specimen is accepted we have to go through the formal process to change its ownership. Before accepting material we will ask you to complete a Transfer of Title form to show that the material was legally acquired and can be passed to us in line with wildlife laws.
Release of registration numbers for publication
If you require Museum registration numbers to be released for publication before sending us the material we will normally send you the numbers on a 'loan' receipt form to help us keep track of the material.