Because there are few Natural Science curators in museums in Wales other than at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, the collections research work was coordinated by a Steering Committee largely composed of curators from the National Museum, and the data was gathered and input by a Research Assistant specially appointed by the Council for Museums in Wales, aided by the curators in the National Museum. In this respect Wales is very similar to Scotland, where again specially appointed staff did the work.

Register of Natural Science Collections in Wales

A Survey of Welsh Natural Science Collections (Botany, Geology, Zoology)

Editors / Golygyddion: R. L. Yeoman & C. W. Pettitt
Published by: The Council of Museums in Wales / Cyhoeddwyd gan: Cyngor Amgueddfeydd yng Nghymru

© Copyright 1999 : The Council of Museums in Wales, The Courtyard, Letty Street, Cathays, Cardiff. CF2 4EL.
© Hawlfraint 1999 - Cyngor Amgueddfeydd yng Nghymru, Y Buarth, Stryd Letty, Cathays, Caerdydd. CF2 4EL

The Council of Museums in Wales is a non statutory, national strategic agency sponsored by the Welsh Office, from which it receives the bulk of its funding. A private company limited by guarantee and a registered charity, it is a membership organization comprising local authorities, universities and independent (non profit) trusts.



The collection of Natural History specimens began in earnest during the late 17th to the early 18th century. Today there is a growing awareness in museums throughout the World of both the enormous size and the irreplaceable cultural value represented by Natural History collections. The role of Natural Science collections as a vital resource is one that is often neglected or ignored (Pettitt, 1991).

Natural Science collections are the result of over 300 years of collection and research. During this time we have learnt invaluable lessons about the global environment, it's biodiversity and geology. All of the information which has been gathered must be safe- guarded so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future. Over the past 50 or so years these collections have been neglected and parts of the global resource have been lost forever. In the UK at least ten times more is spent on art collections than on scientific ones.

At present, only one specialist Natural Science curator is employed in Welsh provincial museums with natural science collections (Newport Museum and Art Gallery). It is well known that the subject is not given a very high priority in non - national museums in the principality. This is due to the historical influence of the National Museum & Gallery of Wales on collecting and collection management policies of local museums over the past 50 or 60 years. The National Museum & Gallery is recognised as the main collecting institution for natural science specimens and employs a number of specialists in various fields covering the main branches of the subject. Part of the remit of the National Museum & Gallery is scientific research into those collections as well as the maintenance of a national archive of specimens. As a result it is not surprising that this survey has shown that over 75% of all the natural science collections in Wales are held by the National Museum & Gallery. Many significant collections have been transferred to the National Museum & Gallery since it's formal establishment in 1907. This leaves very few local museums with significant natural science holdings; in this Register there are listed 1045 collections from the National Museum & Gallery and only 318 from other Welsh institutions. See Table 3 for a list of institutions that have been found to have significant collections.

This catalogue of natural science collections contains more information about the content of botanical, geological and zoological collections in Wales than has ever before been available, together with information about their donors and collectors. The material gathered here will be useful to many scholars and curators who have an interest in the natural sciences. No such catalogue can be definitive, and any amendments and additions, which we hope publication will encourage, will be welcomed.

Aims and Objectives of the Survey

The preparation and compilation of a comprehensive database using best practice methodology based on experience gained from previous surveys undertaken under the FENSCORE (Federation for Natural Science Collections Research) umbrella (Pettitt, 1986). The Council for Museums in Wales recognized the need to employ a full-time Research Assistant to undertake the data gathering involved in the study.

The objectives of the Research Assistant were as follows:

The database will be used as a basis for:

Steering Committee

The Research Assistant was supported by the following Steering Committee:



The last two members were the only two specialist Natural Science Curators employed in local museums outside the National Museum & Gallery within Wales.


A total of 275 institutions and private individuals were contacted during the survey. This list was put together mainly through contact with the following: Welsh Tourist Board, National Trust, Biology Curators Group, Geological Curators' Group, Information Service for Independent Schools (24 Welsh independent schools contacted), Historic Houses Association (64 Welsh members contacted), Countryside Council for Wales and numerous local natural history societies, wildlife trusts and naturalist's trusts. Through these various contacts, 83 institutions were found to hold natural science material. A list of institutions included in the Register can be seen in the results section (Table 1.).

A collection was considered to be a discrete group of objects held by an institution or in private hands. Usually the collection was associated with a known collector, donor or vendor, although in some cases it was unattributed. Unattributed material was considered a collection if it could be defined by subject or locality of origin. In the register such material is listed under the name of the institution. However, if it was suspected that the unattributed material was assembled by a collector whose name was not available, the collection was listed under the institution with the title "unknown". E.g. ABERDARE MUSEUM "UNKNOWN". This indicates that the collection contains material from a single unknown collector. If the collection has the institution name alone, the collection could contain material from numerous donors, but has been grouped together by subject to make compiling the register easier.

Collections were of particular interest if they met the following criteria:

  1. collections containing material originally analysed or described as type, figured or cited
  2. collections of known biographical or historical interest
  3. collections having a high quality of information accompanying the specimens including named expedition material
  4. large collections of more than 100 specimens or smaller collections of particular merit because of the rarity of the material
  5. eighteenth-century or earlier collections
  6. research collections
  7. collections falling into one of the above categories which are known to have been lost or destroyed

Details on collections were gathered by several different methods including reference to previous C.M.W. surveys of its member museums, data gathered by the former Natural History Officer at C.M.W., a survey undertaken by N.M.G.W., a further questionnaire sent out by the Research Assistant (Robert Yeoman), who followed up with telephone calls, visits and in-depth cataloguing on site. Data were recorded on collection content sheets; much of the N.M.G.W. information was already catalogued on computer, or available from existing paper records (see Results section, Table 2.)


Table 1. lists all the institutions found to hold natural science material. Of the 83 institutions found to hold natural science collections, 36 were minor collections consisting of a few items of little scientific worth. An 'M' in brackets after the name of the institution indicates a single minor collection. For all other institutions figures in brackets after the institution name indicate the number of collections recorded for that institution.

Aberystwyth University (15) Glamorgan Nature Centre (M) Plas Newydd (M)
Abergarvenny Museum (M) Glyncornel Environmental Centre (1) Pontypridd Historical & Cultural Centre (M)
Anglesey Birds of Prey (M) Great Wedlock Dinosaurs (M) Porthkerry Country Park (M)
Anglesey Sea Zoo (M) Institute of Grasslands & Environment Research (1) Porthcawl Museum (6)
Beaumaris Court & Gaol (6) International Bee Research Station (1) Powis Castle (2)
Big Pit (M) Kenfig Nature Reserve (M) Powysland Museum (6)
Brecknock Museum (19) Lampeter University (M) Radnorshire Museum (2)
Brecknock Wildlife Trust (3) Llandudno Museum (7) Radnorshire Wildlife Trust (M)
Bodrrhyddan (The Lord Langford) (M) Llaneaich Fawr Manor (M) Regimental Museum (The Royal Welsh Fusiliers) (M)
Bodwellin Castle Trust (M) Llannidloes Museum (1) Rhondda Museum of Environmental Studies (M)
Borth Animalarium (M) Lleyn Historical & Maritime Museum (M) Scolton Manor Museum (14)
Caldicot Castle (M) Margham County Park (M) Snowdonia Park Field Centre (M)
Cardiff University (7) Merthyr Mawr House (1) South Wales Miners Museum (M)
Carmarthen Museum (12) Milford Haven Museum (M) Stone Science (1)
Cefn Coed Colliery Musuem (1) Minera Lead Mines (M) Swansea Museum (26)
Cefntilla (1) Monmouth School (1) Swansea University (22)
Ceredigion Museum (4) National Library of Wales (4) Tenby Museum (15)
Chepstow Museum (7) National Rivers Authority (3) Torfaen Museum Trust (1)
Cowbridge & District Museum (1) National Museum & Gallery of Wales (1045) Treborth Botanic Gardens (M)
Cyfarthfa Castle (18) Naylor-Leyland, P. (M) Tredegar House (1)
Dale Fort Field Centre (1) Neath Borough Museum (M) Welsh Agricultural College (M)
Dingestow Court (2) Newport Museum & Art Gallery (25) Welsh Mountain Zoo (M)
Dyfed Wildlife Trust (2) Oil Polution Research Unit (1) Welsh Industrial & Maritime Museum (1)
Environental Agency (Northern Area) (M) Oriel Ynys Mon (1) Welsh Slate Museum (M)
Felinwynt Rainforest Centre (M) Penhow Castle (1) Ysgol y Gader School (1)
Field Studies Centre, Conahs Quay (M) Penrhyn Castle (10)
Forestry Commission (2) Pensychnant Foundation (1)
Glamorgan Coastal Heritagge Centre (M) Pickhill Hall (M)

Table 2. Showing a collections content sheet as used in the survey. These were filled in for each collection either by the research assistant or by members of staff at the institution surveyed. For most collections details were often only provided for main highlighted fields. This indicates that there is much room for expansion within the database.

Welsh Collections Research Unit

(Natural Sciences)


















* For smaller collections the fields in bold are the main requirements.

Continue below or on a blank sheet if there is not enough room in any field.


Please foward completed collection content sheets to the Council of Museums in Wales, The Courtyard, Letty Street, Cathays, Cardiff. CF2 4EL. Tel. 01222 225432 Fax 01222 668516


(Explanation of fields) Collector: Gives the surname, forename(s) or initials(s) and dates(s) of the collector or names of ships, expeditions, associations etc., or the name of the holding institution, as appropriate. Private collections, confidential collections and lost collections are indicated as such. Subject: Describes the material included in the collection. Status: Indicates when the collection does or might include type, figured or cited specimens (a type specimen is one upon which a natural scientist bases the description of a species believed to be new to science; because it is unique it is correspondingly valuable). Related Manuscripts: Gives details of photographs, letters, notebooks, catalogues and other relevant manuscript material. Area of Origin: Indicates the region(s) of origin of the material. Acquisition: Gives information relevant to the acquisition of the material. For the majority with no entry in this field it should be assumed that the collection was donated. Period of Collection: Indicates the period during which the material was assembled. Size of Collection: Where feasible gives the number of specimens, but for larger collections may be the number of drawers, boxes, cabinets, etc., or sheets, packets and volumes for botanical material. Literature References: Any literature references to the collection or specimens in the collection are listed here. Biographical details: Gives the biographical details of the collector(s) and in some cases, of the associates also. Biographical references are included with the titles of journals abbreviated according to the World List of Scientific Periodicals. Additional Information: Any other relevant details specific to the collection were added here. Museum or Institute: Gives the Museum Documentation code or the name (and sometimes the address) of the holding institution or individual. Associated Collectors: Some large collections may contain a number of smaller collections of specimens gathered together by sub-collectors or associate collectors; these were listed here.

Table 3. Showing all the institutions with 3 or more collections of natural science material. This gives an indication of the main institutions with significant collections. Only 12 institutions have more than 10 collections and 3 of these are Universities. The table gives an overview of the relative importance of natural science holdings within the institutions. Material found within these institutions may have significant scientific merit.

Name of Institution Number of Collections Recorded
National Museum & Gallery 815
Swansea Museum 26
Newport Museum & Art Gallery 25
Bangor University 25
Swansea University 22
Brecknock Museum 19
Cyfarthfa Castle 18
Tenby Museum 15
Aberystwyth University 15
Scolton Manor Museum 14
Carmarthen Museum 12
Penrhyn Castle 10
Cardiff University 7
Llandudno Museum 7
Chepstow Museum 7
Powysland Museum 6
Porthcawl Museum 6
Beaumaris Court & Gaol 6
National Library of Wales 4
Ceredigion Museum 4
National Rivers Authority 3
Brecknock Wildlife Trust 3

There are a few other institutions which are possibly of scientific merit with fewer collections which should also be mentioned. These are: Oil Pollution Research Centre, Institute of Grassland & Environmental Research, Dyfed Wildlife Trust, International Bee Research Station, Forestry Comission, Monmouth School, Penyschnant Foundation, Powis Castle and Stone Science. This gives a final total of 31 institutions with significant natural science collections. Within the database there are 318 non-N.M.G.W. collections. This represents 25% of the total natural science collections in Wales. Out of these collections 69 are held within the Universities. This means that University collections make up 22% of all the non-N.M.G.W. collections.


Robert Yeoman would like to thank the people with whom he dealt at each institution for their assistance. Both editors would also like to take this opportunity to thank the members of the steering committee who have been very supportive of this project. It would not have been possible without your help and encouragement.


Challinor, D. and Kerby, C., 1984. Natural Science collections as a global data bank. Seventh Triennial Meeting of the ICOM Committee for Conservation, Copenhagen, 1984. Paris, ICOM in association with the J. Paul Getty Trust, pp. 84. 13.4-84.13.7. (quote from the start of the report). Pettitt, C. W. (1986) Collections Research in the United Kingdom. in Light, R. B. Museum Documentation systems. London, Butterworths. ISBN: 0-408-10815-0 Pettitt, C.W. (1991) Putting 'Bloody Mice' to good use. Museums Journal 91 (8): 25-28

List of other published regional Registers of Natural Science Collections: