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 collections are open
Due to many major projects in the Museum, including the move of 27 million objects to a new science centre, loans will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
This also means that we will require 12 months minimum notice period between the official loan request and opening rather than nine months.
We regret we cannot accommodate loan requests made with less than 12 months’ notice. All our other exhibition loans information remains the same.
Please contact the relevant curator, Curator in Charge or Head of Collections with enquiries about whether research loans are possible.
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: Registrar@nhm.ac.uk 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:
Dr Douglas Gurr, Director
Natural History Museum
Requests should be posted to the address above or emailed to: Registrar@nhm.ac.uk
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:
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.
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.
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.
- 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
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.
Exhibition loans to the Natural History Museum
Information for lenders
Loans from external lenders to the Natural History Museum are vital to the development of the museum’s exhibitions programme. They complement items from the Museum’s own collections helping us to fulfil our mission to create advocates for the planet: individuals who feel sufficiently informed, confident, and motivated to make wise decisions, to get involved, and to use their influence and actions to make a positive difference to the global future. This guidance is written to answer frequently asked questions and to explain the Museum’s approach to incoming exhibition loans.
Due diligence and confirmation of ownership
The Natural History Museum will not borrow any item for exhibition unless due diligence checks have been satisfactorily completed. Due diligence checking involves ensuring that an item has been legally exported from its country of origin, that its provenance is known and in the case of species listed in the appendices to the Convention on the Illicit Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) that all the documentation is in place to show legal acquisition by the lender. We also ask lenders to confirm they are the owner of the item and they have the authority to lend without encumbrances. The Museum applies the same standards to incoming loans as it would to new acquisitions to the collection.
Understanding the provenance of incoming loans is important for three main reasons.
- It ensures the Museum does not unwittingly participate in the illicit trade of cultural property and that it follows Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) guidance.
- The application form for the Government Indemnity Scheme includes confirming information on provenance has been received and approved.
- If Immunity from Seizure is requested in accordance with Part 6 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 (for items emanating from outside the UK only) the details of the lender or those of their authorised agent must be published on the Natural History Museum website alongside full details and an image of the item(s) for immunity to be granted.
The Museum gathers the information it needs regarding provenance through the Natural History MuseumProvenance Questionnaire which all lenders are asked to complete.
UK government indemnity scheme
The National Heritage Act 1980 was passed to encourage the loan of items for public display. One of the Act’s provisions was the Government Indemnity Scheme (GIS); a non-commercial insurance programme to enable Museums and Galleries to mount major exhibitions without incurring the cost of commercial insurance.
Under the scheme, national museums like the Natural History Museum can obtain indemnity from the UK government for items that are loaned for exhibition. It is very unlikely that the Natural History Museum would be able to afford private insurance for high-value items.
What is covered?
Under GIS, the UK Government bears the risk of damage or loss to objects valued at £1001 or more on loan to national museums, and provision is made for compensation in such cases. The valuation of the item(s) must be approved by the Natural History Museum and agreed by the indemnifier (Arts Council England - who administer the scheme on behalf of DCMS) as reasonable. The indemnity is not a guarantee of automatic compensation: like commercial insurance, the indemnifier decides in each individual case as to the appropriateness of repairing or replacing the item(s).
Indemnity covers transit to and from the owners’ premises ('nail to nail') or to and from another exhibition venue, provided that the general transport conditions as defined in the Government Indemnity Scheme Guidelines for National Institutions are met.
While UK indemnity does not cover against war risks, indemnity is regarded as covering losses from civil commotion, hijacking, piracy, or other similar acts of terrorism, as these are considered not to be part of declared war, hostilities, or warlike operations.
GIS does not cover loss or damage to the item(s) arising or flowing from the negligence or other wrongful act of the owner, his servants, or agents; from a pre-existing flaw of the item(s) at the time of its loan; or from a third-party claim to entitlement to the item(s).
Indemnity is granted to the owner of the item(s) provided guidelines on security, transport, environmental monitoring, and control are met. These guidelines are mandatory and are incorporated into the Natural History Museum incoming loan agreement; they are used as the Natural History Museum standard regardless of whether a loan is covered by GIS or not.
Applying for indemnity
The Natural History Museum will apply for UK government indemnity for loans to the Museum. The application will need to include details of the purpose of the loan, a full description of the item(s) to be covered, the owner’s identity, a valuation agreed by the Natural History Museum and the owner (including exchange rates if valued in foreign currency), dates during which the loan is to be displayed, and dates indicating the period during which the cover will apply. Once indemnity is given, owners will be provided with a copy of the GIS Certificate; the original certificate must be held by the Natural History Museum.
In the event of a claim, the Natural History Museum handles the claim to the DCMS via Arts Council England. The Secretary of State will decide on the eligibility of the claim based on the evidence provided.
Further information on the Government Indemnity Scheme can be found in Government Indemnity Scheme, Guidelines for National Institutions or by contacting the Head of Registry at the Natural History Museum Registrar@nhm.ac.uk.
A condition check should be completed and documented by the lender in the form of a condition report prior to the item being transported, and the condition of the item is then confirmed once on site. In some circumstances a condition report will be carried out once the object arrives at the Natural History Museum and in these instances the museum will not accept liability for changes in the item during transport.
The condition report is a detailed description of the item including any areas of weakness or damage, e.g., scratches or cracking, the position of labels and identifying marks. It is effectively a statement on the state of the item and is agreed by the Natural History Museum and the lender.
The report is used to record any changes in condition (including any damages) during transport, installation or display and has a vital role to play in the assessment of claims under GIS.
Incoming loan agreement
If the lender does not have a standard loan agreement the Natural History Museum will provide an agreement for signature. The loan agreement sets out what has been arranged between the lender and the Natural History Museum and it includes:
- The title, duration, and main aims of the loan
- Contact information for both borrower and lender managing the project
- The level of care that will be given to the borrowed items including security, transport, and environmental monitoring
- Specific display information, including case spec, mounting, or framing requirements
- The value of items and indemnity provision
- Imaging rights and agreements
- Fees and costs
- A detailed schedule of items that the T&C’s cover
- Any additional terms and conditions agreed with the lender.
The loan agreement needs to be signed off by both parties before the loan can take place. If the Natural History Museum wishes to extend the loan a variation to contract will be issued, including the revised dates, upon approval of the extension.
If you have any questions regarding incoming exhibition loans, please contact the Head of Registry: Registrar@nhm.ac.uk or telephone 020 7942 5712.
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.