The Relationship between Museums and Natural Heritage:
As the future of the environment comes to the forefront of public consciousness, so has natural heritage become important when considering the conservation and preservation of the world and history around us. As part of Museum Week, Ellen discusses the role and importance of natural heritage in the heritage sector, as well as offering some tips on how you can help.
Natural heritage is, essentially, the natural world around us – from the land we stand on and the views we admire, to the animals and creatures that fill it. Britain is fortunate enough to have an incredibly diverse natural landscapes, varying from natural temperate forest, to man-made moorland and farmland, and supports a mind-boggling variety of flora and fauna. However, all that is at risk: the 2013 UK State of Nature report shows that 60% of analysed species have declined in the past 50 years. Despite the growing desire to protect the world around us, we continue to see it decline and struggle thanks to human intervention.
Why is natural heritage important to the wider heritage sector?
In short, because every heritage site and organisation is surrounded by and reliant on natural heritage on every side, and as such the two are intrinsically intertwined. It might seem drastic, but it’s true – a historic house built before the forest adjacent to it was cut down might now find its foundations shifting as the ground supporting it subsides due to the lack of roots holding it together; conservation of a pond might disturb the breeding of a rare species of bird; cutting down an ancient tree might destroy a badger set buried among its roots. Even city-centre sites aren’t safe – your roofing gables might unwittingly play host to the nest of a rare bird. The natural world is intrinsically linked with the human one, and heritage is no exception.
The wider heritage sector also has an obligation to promote and encourage environmental sustainability to its visitors and audience – by responding to the worldwide issue of environmental change and thus providing an example to visitors and wider society, museums and other heritage organisations can pave the way for the general public to replicate the actions and compound their impact.
So, how can you or your site help?
Preservation of our natural heritage requires real action – more than just a few token actions that are more for the PR than the environmental benefit. Environmental preservation requires an all-encompassing approach, where sites do everything within their power to ensure the maintenance and saving of their natural heritage, no matter how small the change may seem. Sites must try to become completely sustainable and sensitive to the issues plaguing the natural environment that surrounds them.
The possibilities are endless. Perhaps you might consider adding bat roosts to the attic space of your historic building that would otherwise go unused, create a green roof over your visitor centre, or introduce threatened floral and faunal species into your redeveloped garden space. Small actions such as removing plastic straws from catering establishments, or replacing plastic carrier bags with compostable paper ones would also contribute.
Another potential route is consciousness-raising: informing visitors of the problems facing your site in terms of natural heritage can be a great help in halting the loss of habitats and species alike. Be it provided guided walks around key areas of your site, erecting information boards detailing the threatened species that reside in that area, or allowing conservation and research groups onto your property so that they might learn more – every little helps. Plus, these actions provide an excellent opportunity to show visitors exactly what you’re doing to help the environment around them, perhaps sparking their own efforts!
By Ellen Smithies