Natural History Museum scientist using DNA sequencing. CREDIT Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London


Read later


During Beta testing articles may only be saved for seven days.

Natural History Museum secures additional funding for major new collections and research centre

The Natural History Museum (NHM) has recently benefitted from an additional £20 million of Government funding for the Unlocked programme, on top of the £182m announced at Spring Budget 2020. This will support a Government-wide priority to increase investment in UK science, research and development, and facilitates the Museum’s largest collections move for over 140 years.

The NHM Unlocked Programme will move 28 million specimens to Thames Valley Science Park (TVSP) in partnership with the University of Reading. These specimens cover every ocean and land mass of the planet, ranging from a microscopic ‘water bear’ that can survive in outer space, to the remains of magnificent whales. This bespoke cutting-edge collection facility will also house an ambitious science and digitisation centre that will transform Museum research capability.

Director of the Natural History Museum Doug Gurr says: I thank the Government for providing this substantial investment which allows the Natural History Museum to safely store its irreplaceable collections for generations to come. Once built, the centre will help find solutions to the planetary emergency using collections and research to answer the big questions of today including maintaining food security, improving biodiversity and addressing climate change.

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer says: The Natural History Museum’s world-class collections have been helping to inspire the public’s interest in science and supporting cutting-edge research for generations. This large government investment in a new research and storage facility means the museum will be better placed to safely care for and increase access to its collections so they can be studied and enjoyed by future generations."

Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading Professor Robert Van de Noort says: This funding announcement is fantastic news. It brings both the University and the Natural History Museum a step closer to delivering this important collections and research centre that will open up innovative research opportunities for academics from Reading, and indeed all around the world.

The University of Reading’s scientific research areas, including its world-leading expertise on climate science, align well with the Museum’s research expertise and collections. The partnership between the Museum and the University of Reading will provide key research opportunities, including funding for PhD students. Collaboration could help produce solutions on pivotal global topics ranging from biodiversity loss, to the impact of a changing climate and use of Earth's resources to deliver a green economy. At TVSP, the Museum will be joining other science and creative innovators including the British Museum and Shinfield Studios.

At the new site, which will provide space equivalent to three and a half football pitches, historical collections will be seamlessly integrated with digitisation and imaging suites, state-of-the-art molecular and analytical laboratories and cryo-facilities, increasing the Museum’s science footprint by around 40%. This will expand the UK’s leading role in tackling urgent global challenges; using solutions from nature to drive solutions for nature.

Since £182 million was initially confirmed for NHM Unlocked in 2020, the team have prepared for the overall move of 38 million specimens. There have been over 9 million data points created for these specimens, taking detailed measurements to estimate the volume of space and specialist collections storage furniture needed in the new building. The team have also advanced the Museum’s partnership with the University of Reading and completed RIBA Stage 2 for the new site at TVSP. The low carbon impact, sustainable building is currently expected to be completed in 2027 and operational by 2031, employing best-in-class design practice to reduce lifetime energy and water use.

The Museum’s historic collection is actively used for research, revealing more with developments in analytical technology. Recent research using the collection has revealed bees are increasingly stressed by changes in climate over the past 100 years and that flowers in European forests bloom earlier as the climate warms. Demand for digital data from natural history specimens in collections such as the Museum’s is substantial and rising globally. Only 6% of the Museum’s collection – around 5.4 million specimens – has currently been digitised on the Data Portal, but this data has been used in at least one new scientific publication every day. Accelerating the digital discoverability of natural history collections is essential for accessibility: it opens the collections to global communities, makes collections-based research more efficient, and minimises damage to specimens by reducing physical handling and transportation.

The NHM Unlocked programme will be one of the largest moves of natural history specimens globally. One third of the Museum’s collection, 28 million specimens, will move to Reading whilst 38 million specimens will move around the Museum’s estates in total, freeing up space to be returned to public galleries. In addition, 445,000 library objects – the equivalent of 5,500 metres or the length of over 211 Diplodocuses – will be moving to Reading.

Housed at the new centre will be the Museum’s collections of mammals, non-insect invertebrates (such as corals, crustaceans, molluscs, and worms), molecular collections, micropalaeontology and ocean bottom sediments. New storage will allow the Museum to secure collections currently at risk of deterioration and irreparable damage from being housed in unsuitable buildings and open up galleries to the public which are currently used as storage.

The scientific impact of the new centre will be hugely significant for the UK. The Museum’s scientific staff comprise one of the largest expert bodies of its kind in the world: 350 scientists work with an equivalent number of scientific associates, students, visitors and volunteers, representing a unique national and international resource. These scientists, visiting researchers and collaborators will be able to address urgent questions in the planetary emergency, such as tracking genetic responses to climate change or the emergence of infectious diseases like COVID-19. Scientific facilities at the new centre will include a Biobank with frozen specimen genetic tissue data, whilst laboratories will apply modern genetic and genomic methodologies to unravel fundamental biological processes and signatures of resilience to global and environmental change.


Notes for editors

Natural History Media contact:

Tel: +44 (0)20 7942 5654 / +44 (0)779 969 0151


Images available here

The Natural History Museum welcomes the findings of Sir Paul Nurse in the Independent Review of the UK’s Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) Organisational Landscape.

We are delighted that the Review explicitly recognises the Museum’s collection as an “invaluable” national asset. Inadequate support for collections-based research is also noted by the report. By 2031, our new ambitious science, collections and digitisation centre in Shinfield, Reading will transform the Museum’s collections research capability.

In partnership with the University of Reading, the centre will facilitate this much needed collections-based research: alongside laboratory facilities, 28 million specimens, ranging from mammals to non-insect invertebrates and molecular collections, will be housed at the centre and digitally discoverable. Our partnership with the University will enhance scientific research potential, thereby expanding the UK’s leading role in tackling urgent global challenges; using solutions from nature to drive solutions from and for nature.

The Museum’s historic collection is actively used for research, revealing more with developments in analytical technology. Recent research using the collection moving to Reading has revealed that bat specimens can help predicting the origins of future pandemics whilst digitised samples of Porifera (sponges) can be used in engineering applications using machine learning. Our AI team have been training computer models to identify nannofossils in chalk samples, allowing us to determine the stratigraphic age for many of our paleontological samples, and helping us develop a service to support environmental monitoring, track diversity in relation to global climate shifts and even identify asteroid-impact events. Collections-based research can help advance science in endless ways, and we are looking forward to our partnership with the University to maximize this and to feed into the recommendations from the Review.

About the Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum is both a world-leading science research centre and the most-visited indoor attraction in the UK. With a vision of a future in which both people and the planet thrive, it is uniquely positioned to be a powerful champion for balancing humanity’s needs with those of the natural world. 

It is custodian of one of the world’s most important scientific collections comprising over 80 million specimens accessed by researchers from all over the world both in person and via over 50 billion digital data downloads to date. The Museum’s 350 scientists are finding solutions to the planetary emergency from biodiversity loss through to the sustainable extraction of natural resources. 

The Museum uses its global reach and influence to meet its mission to create advocates for the planet – to inform, inspire and empower everyone to make a difference for nature. We welcome millions of visitors through our doors each year, our website has had 17 million visits in the last year and our touring exhibitions have been seen by around 20 million people in the last 10 years. 

About the University of Reading

The University of Reading is among the top 30 UK universities in world rankings* and is home to 23,000 students from more than 160 countries. It offers a wide range of programmes from the pure and applied sciences to languages, humanities, social sciences, business and arts.

Today, Reading is one of the foremost research-led universities in the UK. The University features more than 50 research centres, many of which are recognised as international centres of excellence in areas including agriculture, biological and physical sciences, European histories and cultures, and meteorology. In 2021, the University was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education – the most prestigious award in the university sector – for its work on climate change.

The University owns and manages the Thames Valley Science Park, which is home to a community of ambitious, knowledge-based companies set within a relaxed, campus-style environment with cutting-edge laboratories and flexible office space. Recent, high-profile tenants include the British Museum and Shinfield Studios.

*ranked 27th out of 90 UK universities featured in the QS World University Rankings 2022