This award recognises the Herbarium’s natural history collections as being of great historical and scientific importance for the country.
Located behind the scenes of the Botanic Garden, the University’s Herbarium plays an important role.
The Herbarium is critical to the functioning of the Botanic Garden.
CUBG Curator, Dr Sam Brockington explains: “The Herbarium is critical to the functioning of the Botanic Garden. It serves as a record of many of the plants that have passed through our living collections, and as reference of the many expeditions we have undertaken to bring exciting material into our collections. It is also an essential resource for several core research projects that we are currently running – from the evolution and conservation of tulips in Central Asia, to the exploration of pollinator attraction in Namaqualand, South Africa.”
Established in 1761 the University Herbarium holds an estimated 1.1 million plant specimens from all over the world, making it one of the largest collections of pressed and dried plant specimens in the UK. An estimated 50,000 of these are ‘type’ specimens – the specimens selected as the original reference to define a species of plant.
Its collection includes almost 1,000 specimens collected by Charles Darwin on the Voyage of the HMS Beagle – perhaps the most famous scientific expedition in history. Darwin’s specimens, along with others in the collection including those of Darwin’s mentor and CUBG founder John Stevens Henslow, were key to the development of the theory of evolution by natural selection.
Other specimens were collected by three centuries’ worth of influential naturalists including Alfred Russel Wallace, Joseph Banks, and Hans Sloane. Some were sent back from famous expeditions including the HMS Challenger Expedition (1872-6) and the Ross Antarctic Expedition of HMS Erebus and Terror (1839-43).
Designation status recognises the extraordinary cultural, scientific and historical importance of the Herbarium, but also enshrines the importance of the Herbarium as a living and breathing archival resource which will continue to drive world-class science and humanities research at the University of Cambridge for the foreseeable future.
Sam Brockington continues: “I’m delighted the University Herbarium has been awarded Designation status. It was a great collaborative effort by the Herbarium, Botanic Garden and Plant Science Department staff, and I’m proud to have co-written the application with Lauren Gardiner, Mariana Fazenda, Laura Carletti and Alison Smith.”
“Designation Status recognises the extraordinary cultural, scientific and historical importance of the Herbarium, but also enshrines the importance of the Herbarium as a living and breathing archival resource which will continue to drive world-class science and humanities research at the University of Cambridge for the foreseeable future.”
Dr Lauren Gardiner, Curator of the Cambridge University Herbarium says: “Cambridge University Herbarium is a unique – and vital – resource for many scientific and historical fields of research, from present day conservation science to the history and development of scientific ideas about the natural world.”
She adds: “We are extremely pleased that the Herbarium has been awarded Designated status, and that this major biodiversity archive is now recognised officially, alongside the other extraordinary collections held by the University of Cambridge.”
Arts Council England’s Designation Scheme recognises the pre-eminent collections of national importance held in England’s non-national museums, libraries and archives, based on their quality and significance. Cambridge University Herbarium’s award demonstrates that its holdings are some of the finest and most significant in the country, and recognises that the University of Cambridge is committed to the continued safeguarding and use of this remarkable collection for the benefit of generations to come.
I’m delighted that the scheme has recognised the outstanding nature of the Cambridge University Herbarium collection. It demonstrates the breadth of collections that exist in our institutions, and the role they can play in addressing the past, present and future of the planet.
Dr Nick Merriman, Chair, Designation Panel, says: “The Designation Scheme plays a critical role in raising the profile of nationally and internationally significant collections throughout England. We hope this spotlight safeguards them for the enjoyment and enrichment of many generations to come.”
“I’m delighted that the scheme has recognised the outstanding nature of the Cambridge University Herbarium collection. It demonstrates the breadth of collections that exist in our institutions, and the role they can play in addressing the past, present and future of the planet.”
Part of the Department of Plant Sciences, the Cambridge University Herbarium is held in climate-controlled facilities located in the University Botanic Garden. Specimens can currently be viewed at specific exhibitions, public talks and online activities held by the Herbarium. A new website and specimen portal will be launched later this year that will make high resolution images of the specimens freely accessible online. Digitisation of the specimens has started, which will enable much greater use of the collection.
The more than 3,300 herbaria around the world are crucial resources in addressing several of our greatest global challenges – including the unfolding mass extinction of plants and animals, food security and climate change. They are at the core of efforts to identify and name plant species, conserve biodiversity, preserve indigenous plant knowledge and improve the economic status of local communities around the world.
This story was written by Jacqueline Garget from Cambridge University’s Office of External Affairs and Communications. You can view the original article here.