A unique re­source

Landscape (UK) - - Country Matters -

With its po­ten­tially dam­ag­ing ef­fects on birdlife, and par­tic­u­larly rare species, it is il­le­gal to col­lect or sell wild birds’ eggs, or to pos­sess one that was col­lected il­le­gally. But col­lec­tions held by mu­se­ums are play­ing a piv­otal role in mod­ern sci­ence. “The NHM has more than a mil­lion eggs of ap­prox­i­mately 4,700 species, more than any other mu­seum world­wide, but we still know noth­ing, or very lit­tle, about the breed­ing of thou­sands of bird species,” says Dou­glas. “In­ter­est in egg col­lec­tions has in­creased with ad­vances in tech­niques for study­ing shell struc­ture and ap­pear­ance. “The NHM’s col­lec­tions are im­mensely im­por­tant to cur­rent or­nithol­ogy and con­ser­va­tion, and a huge part of study­ing the his­tory of nat­u­ral his­tory and breed­ing pop­u­la­tions past and present. “For ex­am­ple, our old­est dat­able bird’s egg was col­lected in 1807, at Bass Rock in Scot­land, by the nat­u­ral­ist Wil­liam Bul­lock, and pro­vides a unique in­sight into the gan­net pop­u­la­tion of the UK more than two cen­turies ago. Our col­lec­tions are highly val­ued by re­searchers study­ing the many unan­swered ques­tions about the bi­ol­ogy of eggs. “If some­one has an old egg col­lec­tion they have in­her­ited, with in­for­ma­tion about when and where the eggs were col­lected, they can con­tact the NHM for ad­vice on whether this might help in mod­ern re­search.”

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