WP3: Mapped representation of UKOTs data and materials in UK and overseas collections


Data repatriation and open access to collections and resources are increasingly being written into museum and herbarium principles [see Clubbe et al]. UK museums and herbaria are committed to ensure that knowledge held in the UK that can support cultural heritage and ecological conservation is shared with the material’s colonial origins. The current extent and detail of data and materials held in UK and overseas museums and collections is broadly unknown to UKOTs communities. To date, repatriation for the UKOTs is limited and on an ad hoc basis relying on interests of specialists. 

The UKOTs are also not often referred to in the UK museum landscape (although see notable exceptions see Clubbe et al). Outreach and educational displays, held online on open access platforms (e.g. Google Arts and Culture, MyLearning and GBIF) will reveal the hidden historical and contemporary links between the UK and UKOTs.


Montserrat records GBIF Occurrence Download
9331 records of specimens for Montserrat on GBIF.org (9 December 2022) GBIF Occurrence Download https://doi.org/10.15468/dl.c6per2

Limited local human resources and scientific skills may hinder organisations in their institutional development and practical conservation work. By developing existing networks, this may allow us to establish future solutions and best practice to deliver taxonomy training.  

The project has enabled knowledge exchange between the project partners and stakeholders and sharing of information on data and materials as well as supporting curatorial and educational training.

Outputs shared here as a resource for all UKOTs includes: (1) guidance on accessing museum specimens or conservation purposes; (2) a collection of records held in the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) by UK Territory;  and (3) a catalogue of GBIF records by institution. 

1. Accessing museum specimens for research

Natural science collections and colonialism

Natural science collections can tell us a lot about biodiversity around the world, how it has changed over time, and how to help conserve it. One of the legacies of colonialism is that museums around the world contain specimens collected from once-colonised countries. Unfortunately, these collections are not always accessible to people in the countries they were taken from. This can impact upon environmental conservation in previously colonised countries.

Accessing museum data and specimens

There are thousands of museums over the world, many of which have not completely documented or digitised their collections. Some museum material has been well documented internally, but their associated data may not be accessible externally.

The type specimen of Pribby (Rondeletia buxifolia), endemic to Montserrat, and critically endangered. Specimen BM000927806. © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London (licensed under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)
The type specimen of Pribby (Rondeletia buxifolia), endemic to Montserrat, and critically endangered. Specimen BM000927806. © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London (licensed under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0

Most museum curators will try their hardest to help if you require access to material in their museums. However, there have been cuts to funding in UK museums and elsewhere, which have reduced the number of natural science curators employed by museums. Many museums have one curator to care for all collections, who may lack specialist knowledge. With the exception of larger national collections, many curators also have roles to fulfil beyond collections management. If you contact a curator and do not receive a response, please persist. It is the duty of museum curators to facilitate access to the collections they house, and most natural science curators are particularly keen for this material to be beneficial for biodiversity conservation.

Extinct species: Cayman Thrush The Cayman Thrush (Turdus ravidus) is the national bird of the Cayman Islands, and was endemic. It was common on Grand Cayman before the twentieth century, but the last sighting was in 1938, and they are now extinct. After the species was discovered, it was popular with specimen collectors, and Cayman Thrushes were sent to museums in North America and Europe. Despite being the national bird, preserved remains of Cayman Thrushes cannot be seen in the Cayman Islands. A legacy of colonialism means that they can only be seen in overseas institutions, meaning it is difficult for Caymanians to learn about and from this part of their natural heritage. A specimen of the Grand Cayman Thrush (Turdus ravidus)

How to access UKOT records from The Global Biodiversity Information Facility

A key barrier to accessing museum specimens is finding out where they exist. A good place to start is GBIF . This provides data on millions of biological records, including specimens in museums. However, not all museums have shared their data on GBIF, and many have only shared some of their data. You can limit your search by geography, taxonomy and record type. To find museum specimens using GBIF:

GBIF records

To download this information sheet as a pdf click here

2. GBIF Records for UKOTs by territory

As part of the the project the team from Leeds Museum and Galleries have captured records from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). 

The results are now available here as resource for the UKOTs to gain greater access and utilise collections for education and research. The catalogue can be further developed in both scale and geographic scope.

 The slide show (to the right) presents records for our case studies the Cayman Islands and Montserrat. 

The full report is available now as a pdf:

UKOTs preserved specimens_GBIF_summaries_FINAL

3. Catalogue of GBIF records for UKOTs by Institution

Click anywhere on the table below to download the catalogue as a Word document. Once you have downloaded the file you will be able to click on the links to the records directly

If you would like to know more about this work please contact cwensink@ukotcf.org 

Hidden Histories logos