Securing the future of our unique collections

Our approach to protecting this vital scientific and public resource

A curator at a table looking through a microscope. She is surrounded by tray upon tray of beetles.

We are looking to create a flagship, sustainable science and digitisation centre to safeguard a remarkable collection that explains our past, helps us to address global challenges and provides a hub for partnerships with research institutions, industry, academia and other museums.

The Museum’s science is rooted in its unique collection of over 80 million specimens spanning billions of years and the breadth of the globe. It is a well-used and growing collection, serving international scientific communities today and containing infinite potential for future discoveries.

The collections are vast and varied - we house whale skeletons, fleas, Antarctic algae, Moon rock and everything in between. At over 80 million objects and growing, the collections' age, size and geographic scope render them invaluable to scientific study and make us a global centre of scientific research.

Our curators host visiting researchers and loan out specimens for study, while our ongoing digitisation programme is making it easier to access the collections and research data from anywhere in the world. We also use our collections to underpin a varied programme of public engagement, raising general interest and knowledge about science and enthusing the next generation of scientists.

How our collections serve science

The scientific community, both at the Museum and internationally, uses our objects to answer fundamental questions about the natural world - life on Earth, the geology of our planet and the past, present and future of the solar system.

The scale of the Museum's collections allows scientists to both build a picture of the current state of life on Earth and look back in time at past climates, ocean temperatures, species diversity and abundance, and much more.

Urgent answers are required to the problems caused by human activity, from  global warming and ocean acidification to habitat loss and extinctions.

By understanding what our planet has undergone in the past and how life responds to environmental changes, we can more effectively predict and plan for the future.

A man putting a tray of slide specimens into a scanning machine

Our digitisation programme is unlocking the details held in our collections and making it easier for everyone to access them

The need for a new collections facility

The collections are currently spread over three sites: at our museums in South Kensington and Tring and in an adapted storage building in South London. Space is very tight, and some of our post-war buildings are no longer fit for purpose.

Substandard storage facilities put our specimens at risk of deterioration and irreparable damage, so we are looking at opportunities to create a modern collections facility that will house and protect the collections for years to come.

Developing a purpose-built facility will make it easier for scientists to access the physical specimens while also speeding up our digitisation programme and accommodating our ever-expanding collection, including genetic and other molecular records.

Relieving the pressure on the Museum's current buildings will also increase the display space we can open to the public, unlocking stunning former galleries currently used as storage areas.

The way forward

Securing the future of the collections is a priority within our Strategy to 2031.

To do this, we are developing our requirements for a new facility, seeking partnerships and pursuing the investment required.

As our plans progress, we will be communicating any developments, timeframes and temporary changes to collections access. 

The Museum's collections

The Museum's collections are cared for by its curators. They catalogue and preserve them, and help other scientists access them for research.