Natural History

Natural History Discovery Centre and displays, First Floor Great Hall
Blackbird

Blackbird

Get a really close-up view of wildlife in the Discovery Centre, where you can stroke a fox and touch a hedgehog, compare the skeletons of common mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and birds, or watch the Malaysian Stick Insects in the special mini-beast tank. Using the microscope and screen you can examine all sorts of plants, insects, sea life and owl pellets. Explore wildlife using the Woods and Walks touchscreen computer. See pictures of the animals and plants found in the Museum grounds and at nature reserves nearby. Maps and directions are given so you can visit the sites. Hear the sounds the birds and other animals make – some of the noises are quite surprising!

Children will especially enjoy spotting all kinds of local birds and animals in the Wildlife diorama, and nearby displays explore the history of woodland management. The Victorian Naturalist’s Study evokes the time of the Museum’s foundation in the 1830s. Here are displayed some of the more exotic specimens collected by members of the Saffron Walden Natural History Society, and examples of historic taxidermy.

Today the emphasis has changed from collecting specimens to conservation and understanding plants and animals in their natural environment. New specimens for study and display are prepared only from creatures that have died as a result of natural causes or accident.

Preserved Animals

 

American Bittern, shot in 1826, the first record of this bird in Essex

American Bittern, shot in 1826, the first record of this bird in Essex

Mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, insects, molluscs and other invertebrates can be found in the zoology collections. A small collection of mainly British mammals includes the famous Wallace the Lion, who guards the natural history galleries at the Museum.

Historic specimens of British and European birds form the main part of the bird collection. There is a wealth of fine artistic Victorian taxidermy with examples of Humming birds, Birds of Paradise and other species from Africa, Asia, North and South America and Australia. Birds were presented by Joseph and Joshua Clarke, Jabez Gibson, John Gould, Stephen Salmon, and a Mr Stevenson. The birds’ egg collection includes material from W.M. Tuke and H.E. Smith. Breast bones from different species of birds collected by Edward Tuck between 1849 and 1859 are part of the bone collection.

Female leopard moth

Female leopard moth

The insect collection includes large numbers of British beetles, butterflies and moths, including micro-moths. Local donors have also presented insects from Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Shells from Britain and around the world can be found in the mollusc collection. The local material has extensive data.

Plant Collections

Wax model of the Saffron Milk Cap fungus made by G. N. Maynard

Wax model of the Saffron Milk Cap fungus made by G. N. Maynard

Cornflowers collected by G. S. Gibson, from the herbarium collections

Cornflowers collected by G. S. Gibson, from the herbarium collections

The historic herbarium is of considerable regional importance. It contains over 14,000 dried specimens of flowering plants, ferns, mosses, liverworts, fungi, lichens and algae. Essex botanists such as George Stacey Gibson, Joshua Clarke, W.L.P. Garnons and Frederick Brocas collected many of these plants in Britain during the 19th century.