The UK holds some of the world’s most important natural science collections. More than 130 million specimens have been collected from around the world and are held in over 90 institutions throughout the country.
We have created a new film to explain how the work of DiSSCo UK will unlock a valuable national resource to the world.
The UK Natural Science Collection Community, coordinated by the Natural History Museum London and supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, part of UKRI are leading a national programme of digitisation called DiSSCo UK. The DiSSCo UK programme is part of a wider European project, called the Distributed System of Scientific Collections (DiSSCo) Research Infrastructure, which aims to accelerate the digitisation of natural science collections in Europe.
Digitisation is the process of transforming physical specimen information into a digital form. This unlocks a unique and valuable national resource to the world and enables the UK to be part of current and future scientific collaborations to find solutions to the biggest challenges of our time. We know from D.Popov et al. (2021) that digitising the Natural History Museum’s collection would create economic benefits exceeding £2 million, imagine what digitising the whole of the UK collections could deliver.
Developed over the last 250 years, natural science collections consist of organisms such as plants and animals; their tissue and DNA: and geological materials such as meteorites, minerals and fossils. These collections tell us how the Earth and solar system formed over 4.56 billion years and the impact of human life on earth over the past few thousand years.
The natural world is in peril and we face biodiversity and climate emergencies. Solutions to these problems can be found in data associated with natural science collections; from understanding signals of climate change response to slowing extinction rates, reducing risk from zoonotic diseases, minimising degradation of natural capital and addressing challenges of food security.
DiSSCo UK so far
The DiSSCo UK programme is part of a wider European project, called the Distributed System of Scientific Collections (DiSSCo) Research Infrastructure, which aims to accelerate the digitisation of natural science collections in Europe.
Over the last two years, The AHRC-supported DiSSCo UK has begun to map the holdings of UK natural science collections. We have built up a comprehensive picture of UK collections and built a network of institutions and a community with a shared vision to digitise their collections. We used this to develop a blueprint for the digitisation of these collections and explored models to train the UK network to develop the capacity to digitise collections.
We created the DiSSCo Digitisation Guides site, which contains information on how to digitise collections. This website supports the DiSSCo UK project, providing a place for us to share our digitisation workflows and best practices, so we can all learn from each other. The Natural History Museum has shared some of our digitisation projects, including our pinned insect, microscope slide and herbarium sheet workflows.
With our most recent tranche of funding, we have also constructed the first national data portal for natural science collections, aggregating some 11 million records and building a full, high-quality register of UK collections.
If you want to find out more about DiSSCo UK you can visit the website and read our previous blogs about this work. Please share the DiSSCo film with your networks and let us know any feedback you have about it on You Tube.
The DiSSCo UK team run collections community meetings and events throughout the year, please email email@example.com to be added to our mailing list.