4 min read

Saving one million Victorian British insects at Oxford University Museum of Natural History

a photo of a case of stag beetles

Stag Beetles. © Katherine Child / Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Oxford University Museum of Natural History begins ambitious project to save its British insect collection and open it up to the public

Oxford University Museum of Natural History’s Pre-Raphaelite-styled Westwood Room has held insect collections since the Museum was founded in 1860.

Today the Hope Entomological Collections (HEC) houses somewhere in the region of 3.5 million specimens, together with extensive associated library and archives, but the passage of time means both historic room and collection are currently inaccessible to the visiting public and in dire need of expert care and curation.

Now the Henry Swan decorated room and its contents are to be re-energized as the Museum has received initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a new project called HOPE for the Future – Heritage, Outreach and Preservation of Entomology project.

The project aims to re-house and safeguard the nationally-significant British insect collections, which number over one million specimens, and open up the important space housing as an accessible public space whilst restoring it to its original 1860 condition. The Westwood Room features exquisitely painted wall borders, ceiling beams and entomological detailing, including a carved interpretation of a stag beetle and hawkmoth life cycles on the stone fireplace.

a photo of a hand holding a colourful moth

Callimorpha. Scarlet tiger moth. © Katherine Child / Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

a photo of a case of stag beetles

Stag Beetles. © Katherine Child / Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Development funding of £63,700 has been awarded to help the Museum progress its plans ahead of a full grant application for an ambitious project that includes ‘Move a Million’ – a re-curation of the British insect collections, which document how the British fauna has changed since the Industrial Revolution. The project will explore the collection’s relevance for current issues such as biodiversity loss, species conservation and climate change.

Over one million insect specimens from the Museum’s Westwood Room are to be moved by new staff and volunteers to a new higher-quality storage space with improved access in conditions that are vital to safeguard the future of the important insect collection, which was established in 1849 when Reverend Frederick W. Hope bequeathed his entire collection to the University.

Subsequent Hope Professors, including John O. Westwood, after whom the Westwood Room was named, also amassed large amounts of material and with the help of donations by some of the most prominent entomologists of the day, the wider collection is now one of the best entomological resources in the United Kingdom.

Pointing to how the Heritage Lottery Fund is “founded on the principles of caring for and providing access to our country’s heritage” Professor Paul Smith, Director of Oxford University Museum of Natural History promised the new project will “aim to inspire an interest in Britain’s natural environment and to safeguard natural heritage for future generations to access.”

a photo of a case of hornets

Clearwing Hornet Moth. © Katherine Child / Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

a drawer full of bumble bees

The Bombus drawer. © Katherine Child / Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Prof Smith also said the project will support an extensive community outreach and public engagement programme centred on British animal wildlife, teaching skills and inspiring a lifelong interest in the natural environment and conservation.

The programme will take material from the British insect collections into schools and rural communities, reaching both young and older audiences. Insect Discovery Days will be developed for Year 6 and 7 pupils from local primary and secondary schools, along with programme of out-of-school activities for ages nine and above.

This will be complemented by events at the Museum, including behind the scenes tours, skills-based workshops and day schools, as well as opportunities to volunteer to work on the collection rehousing project.

a photo of an oak panelled room with large drawers inside it

The Westwood Room. Courtesy OUMNH.

a close up of a flying stag beetle in a drawer of stag beetles

Stag beetles. © Katherine Child / Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Parts of the University’s Life Collections, including butterfly and moth types, can be viewed on their collections website www.oum.ox.ac.uk/collections/life


Founded in 1860 as the centre for scientific study at the University of Oxford, the Museum of Natural History now holds the University’s internationally-significant collections of geological and zoological specimens, as well as substantial archival material. Housed in a stunning example of neo-Gothic architecture, the Museum’s growing collections underpin a…

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *