A Museum fish specimen on loan for an exhibition

BM 1883.11.26.119 Epinephelus lanceolatus (common name: Giant Grouper) awaiting installation at the National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo, Japan, 2017

The Natural History Museum is committed to sharing its world-renowned collections of over 80 million specimens with local and global audiences.

The Natural History Museum has closed to the public and scientific visitors

We are no longer making research loans of NHM material and cannot receive returns of NHM material previously sent on research loan. NHM Science Group are no longer making requests for research loans and are not able to return material on research loan to the NHM until further notice. We are not able to provide digital surrogates of NHM material but existing digital resources will continue to be available from and our Library and Archives can be explored here.

We are not able to accept any requests for future loans or digital surrogates until further notice.

Please do not ship any collections material (including loans, donations and enquiries) to the Museum until further notice.  

We are no longer sending or accepting requests for exhibition loans. Our Registrar team have contacted those lenders whose requests have been submitted and are opening in 2020. 

We appreciate that this will impact the users of our collections but the welfare of our staff, collections users and the collections is of paramount importance to us. 

Please get in touch if you need any additional information about our collections, for research questions the best point of contact will be individual staff or the relevant Head of Collections whose details can be found here. If you have any questions regarding exhibition loans please contact the Registrar's Office at

We will update these pages as to when we will be allowing scientific visitors into the collections, accepting collections material and resuming lending as new information becomes available. 

Making items from the collection available for display and research through loans is part of the core purpose of the Museum and the Trustees of the Natural History Museum agree loans under powers conferred by section 4 of the British Museum Act of 1963:

'The Natural History Museum may lend for public exhibition or research (whether in the United Kingdom or elsewhere) any object comprised in the collections of the Museum: provided that in deciding whether or not to lend any such object, and in determining the time for which, and the conditions subject to which, any such object is to be lent, the Natural History Museum shall have regard to the interests of students and other persons visiting the Museum, to the physical condition and degree of rarity of the object in question, and to any risks to which it is likely to be exposed.'

The Natural History Museum currently lends its collections in the following ways:

  • Loans for Exhibition
  • Loans for Research
  • Touring Exhibitions

All loans are made by the Trustees of the Museum subject to the terms of a legal contract. 

Loans for Exhibition

Our guidance for Outgoing Exhibition Loans, extracted from the Museum’s Collections Access and Information Policy, can be downloaded here (PDF 76kB).

How to request a loan

Prospective borrowers will need to submit a formal request to borrow and demonstrate that they can meet certain conditions throughout the course of the loan.

Information to include

Your request will need to outline the following:

  • details of the item(s) requested for loan, including Natural History Museum registration numbers where possible
  • the exhibition title, venue(s) and dates for display
  •  a rationale for the inclusion of the item(s) within the exhibition, also outlining broader display themes
  • name and contact details of the person(s) responsible for exhibition planning at the venue

It would also be helpful if you could provide at this stage:

  • details of how the requested item(s) will be insured or indemnified
  • comments on whether the exhibition will be charged for
  • UKRG Facility Report, Security and Display Case supplements

Preparing your request

Prior to submitting a formal request, prospective borrowers are encouraged to carry out preliminary research on the material they might wish to borrow. If you are unsure which items you would like to borrow for your exhibition please email the Registrar’s team on: who will put you in touch with the relevant curatorial department.

The Museum welcomes informal discussions with its curatorial staff a minimum of 12 months before the intended exhibition opening.

Submitting your request

The Museum requires a formal loan request to be submitted a minimum of 9 months ahead of the exhibition opening date. Loan requests should be made through a formal letter addressed to the Director:

Sir Michael Dixon, Director
Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road

Requests should be posted to the address above or emailed to:

All requests will be acknowledged on receipt.

How we approve loans

The Museum will assess the request, considering:

  • whether the request was submitted with sufficient time to prepare the item(s); this is a minimum of 9 months before the exhibition opens
  • the fitness of the item(s) for transport and display
  • the availability of the item(s), acknowledging any prior commitments
  • the suitability of the borrowing institution
  • resources required to facilitate the loan
  • the degree of risk involved in the loan and what interventions can be made to resolve these to the Museum’s satisfaction
  • the impact on the Museum’s own displays at South Kensington, The Natural History Museum at Tring or in Touring Exhibitions
  • the status of the exhibition to which the item would be lent, how significant the item is to the exhibition and the purpose of the exhibition
  • Loans from the Museum’s archives are also subject to approval by The National Archives

Individual items of exceptional scientific value will be referred to the Trustees of the Natural History Museum for consideration.

The Registrar will notify prospective borrowers of the decision 8-12 weeks after the receipt of the request. If the request is approved in principle it is conditional on the borrower meeting the Museum’s conditions of loan. The Museum endeavours to facilitate the loan requests it receives but reserves the right to refuse a request following assessment of the above considerations.

Security and facilities documentation

The Natural History Museum lends collections in line with the UK Government Indemnity Scheme Guidelines for National Institutions (PDF 787kb). These include standards for display, transportation, access and security.

Prospective borrowers will be asked to provide essential information on the intended venue in a standard facilities report, preferably the UK Registrar’s Group format, along with Security and Display case supplements, 6 months prior to the Exhibition opening date.

The UKRG templates can be downloaded below:

  1. Security (DOC 347kB)
  2. Facilities (DOC 256kB)
  3. Display case (DOC 209kB)

All potential loans, whether to UK or International venues, are submitted to the UK National Security Adviser, based at Arts Council England (ACE). The Security Adviser will either visit or send a questionnaire to each venue to confirm that the security arrangements conform to those laid down in the General Security Condition set out in the Government Indemnity Scheme.

Prospective borrowers will also be required to provide 3 months’ environmental data from the proposed display space. This should preferably be for the time frames being requested.

The Museum reserves the right to withdraw approval for a loan if specific security, display or other concerns cannot be addressed.


The borrower will be expected to cover all direct costs associated with the loan, including but not limited to:

  • transportation and courier costs
  • crating and packing materials
  • mounting and framing
  • condition reporting and photography
  • insurance or cover through a national indemnity scheme

The Museum makes additional service charges for loans to venues other than UK museums and galleries and for loans to UK Museums and galleries which will be used in a commercial tour.

Cancellation of loans

The Museum reserves the right to charge the borrower for any conservation or other costs which may have been incurred should the loan be cancelled by the Borrower. Cancellations must be made in writing to the Registrar.

Insurance and Indemnity

Borrowers will be required to provide proof of ‘nail to nail’ insurance or indemnity cover for the item(s) in English before the item(s) are transported to the borrower. As a guide, the following approaches to insurance or indemnity are acceptable to the Museum:

  • Government Indemnity for UK Loans
  • Government Indemnities from Foreign Governments
  • Commercial Insurance

The borrower may also need to provide assurance of immunity from judicial seizure or comparable assurance from a government body or representative of an appropriate authority.

Our Registration team will be on hand to assist if you have any queries, and more information on Indemnity can be found on the DCMS Government webpage.

Commercial Venues

Requests to borrow for commercial usage will be processed in the same manner and subject to the same criteria for assessment as non-commercial requests.

Long Loans

The Museum is open to requests to borrow items from the collection for long term display. Requests must be made in the same manner as for a temporary display and will be subject to the borrower meeting the Museum’s terms and conditions of loan.

Loans for Research

Collections material may be borrowed for scientific research purposes to approved borrowers, subject to certain conditions.

Our guidance for Outgoing Research Loans, extracted from the Museum’s Collections Access and Information Policy, can be downloaded here (PDF 86kB).

Arranging a loan

All loan requests should be directed to the appropriate collections group.

Before contacting them, researchers wishing to access information on the Museum's collections should first consult our digitised collections

Please be aware that it can take up to three months to fully assess and process loan requests due to the large volume of loans handled.

All prospective borrowers must approved. The collections group will be able to provide copies of our current approved borrower applications and our lending terms and conditions.

Lending restrictions

  • Type specimen lending is restricted. Rare and fragile items are not loaned. In these instances the Museum can provide high-quality images.
  • The Museum retains the right to refuse loans, to request the return of loans before the end of the loan period and to take action against borrowers who do not comply with our terms and conditions for lending.
  • Hand carries are only permitted in certain circumstances and must be approved by the Head of Collections. It is often not possible to take specimen loans at the end of a collections visit.
  • Researchers in the UK are generally asked to make a study visit to the Museum rather than request a loan. This is to save fragile material having to be unnecessarily submitted by post.
  • Loans will not be sent for a month over the Christmas and New Year period. 
  • Library and Archives collections are for reference only and may only be consulted in the public reading room.

Loans for destructive and invasive sampling

The Museum considers requests for destructive or invasive sampling, including:

  • sampling of molecular (frozen tissue and genetic) collections
  • preparation of a thin section
  • subsampling of part of a specimen 
  • total destruction of any biological, palaeontological or mineralogical specimens

Grant applications

If you are making a grant application that requires sampling from our collections we strongly recommend that approval in principle is sought in advance of external funding requests being submitted.

Criteria for destructive and invasive sampling loans

The Museum evaluates loans request against set criteria based on the following questions:

  • How abundant in the collection is the material of the particular biological, palaeontological or mineral species in question or is the request for an important subset of that species?
  • Can alternative material be used or collected for the purpose?
  • Is there a non-destructive alternative or is one likely to be developed sufficiently soon?
  • Will the results justify the sacrifice?
  • Has a pilot study been done, ie will the method work?
  • Will someone in the future want to repeat the work on the same specimens - ie will the specimen be reduced further?
  • What other methods of study, known or potential, are prevented by allowing this destructive action?
  • What is normal taxonomic practice in this classificatory group?
  • Is the material type or figured and/or historically important?

Historical and type specimens

Permission to sample type specimens, historically important items or extinct or endangered species or taxa that are poorly represented in the collections may only be granted in exceptional circumstances.

Location of sampling

The Museum may insist that the work is done within the Natural History Museum and/or by Museum staff. If this is the case the Museum may recover any costs associated with the sampling.

Data and publications

Samples or items for sampling are sent to the applicant as a research loan on the understanding that data may be returned in lieu of physical items. Borrowers will be made aware of any restrictions that may apply regarding the use or publication of items, and where appropriate copies of Material Transfer Agreements, Prior Informed Consent, Mutually Agreed Terms etc. will be provided. The Museum may require use of a Material Transfer Agreement to define obligations with respect to Access and Benefit Sharing.

Touring exhibitions

The Natural History Museum has an active programme of national and international touring exhibitions including specimen-rich exhibitions such as Treasures of the Natural World and Ancient Oceans, the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year and crowd-pleasing dinosaur shows with animatronics.

If you would like to learn more about these please see the Touring Exhibitions webpage for further details and how to contact our Touring team.