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How Heritage organisations can combat biodiversity loss


The heritage sector can play a role in helping to increase biodiversity levels in the UK by engaging and educating visitors on biodiversity, along with wider environmental concerns. Each organisation can help reverse the decline of nature in the country, from planting bee friendly flowers, to tree planting, to hosting environment-based exhibits, these actions taken together will add up to create a significant benefit for local species.

The benefits to museums

Activities that aim to improve biodiversity in your local environment can be used as engagement events across demographics. Setting up new wildlife areas can be used to invite people to the museum and engage them with biodiversity. Some ideas for biodiversity events are: 

  • Creating bug hotels 
  • Planting new trees 
  • Unveiling new wildflower meadows 
  • Hosting nature cafes 
  • Biodiversity walks 

As climate change and the loss of biodiversity becomes a more urgent issue, being proactive on the topic helps to place museums as centers of engagement, action and learning on the issue. This promotes the museum, raises its profile, and widens the audience the organisation can reach. 

Simple, low-cost steps museums can take now

Plant wildflowers 

Learn how to sow wildflowers for your green/gravel space or in pots. 

Reduce or stop use of pesticides 

Pesticide use has a harmful impact on biological diversity: they can have short-term toxic effects on directly exposed organisms, and long-term effects can result from changes to habitats and the food chain. Pesticides are chemical substances designed to be toxic to organisms that affect plants’ growth such as fungi, insects or weeds. They cause the death of many wildlife species including mammals, earthworms, and bees. 

If pesticides are something your organisation use and you’re looking at more environmentally friendly ways to manage your green spaces, some useful resources are: 

Build Animal Homes 

Providing a physical structure for insects to use as shelter is a great activity to get people involved with and provides a sanctuary for local species helping them thrive. This activity requires little space and resources as structures can be made from a range of natural materials such as sticks, dried leaves, pine cones, bark, grass etc and other materials such as timber, bricks and stones. The size and complexity of the structure can be fitted around what space, resources and capacity you have from a simple pile of twigs and leaves to a built “bug hotel”. These provide places to hide from predators, raise young, and live. They’re suitable for insects, smaller mammals, and amphibians. Bird and bat boxes are also a great addition to support local wildlife if you have the space. 

 Ideas for what to build: 

Plant Hedges or Trees 

Learn how to plant hedges or trees at your museum. 

Hold A Biodiversity Event Or Exhibit 

Museums can act on biodiversity in a way that doesn’t require grounds, space or significant resources to plant trees or create wildflower meadows. By holding events which engage the public on the issue, museums can inspire people to go and take actions themselves.  

Holding nature days, whether a whole day or a couple of hours for a nature café, brings people together and can introduce them to different objects in the collection or local speakers. Exploring historic records can counter shifting baseline syndrome. 

Making use of your local area and natural environment, including its heritage and culture, builds connections with the local community. You can extend beyond the museum and use local rivers, coastlines, fields, woods, and even urban wildlife to demonstrate biodiversity and invite new meaning and value to these community spaces.  

Examples of biodiversity-based activities and engagement museums: 

Case Study: The Stirling Smith Art and Museum

The Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum is a place where everyone is welcome. The building has played a very special part in the history of Stirling since its founding in 1874. Established by the bequest of artist Thomas Stuart Smith (1815-1869), it was built on land supplied by the Burgh of Stirling. Today, The Smith functions as a gallery, museum and cultural centre for the Stirling area. In addition to serving as a repository of historic artefacts and paintings of Stirlingshire, it also contains a biodiversity garden, known as Ailie’s Garden. 

Ailie’s Garden (named after local activist Ailie R Maclaurin, 1913-2000) is a half-acre site within the two-acre museum grounds.  It was designed as a biodiversity garden where only native species would be planted and sourced locally.  For example, an apple tree in the garden came from Stirling Castle’s apple trees.  The grounds maintain a large composting area and wormery which the museum uses as part of its green initiative. Additionally, the art and objects within the garden are all created of natural materials that will not cause any harm to the animal and plant life that resides there. 

The garden was funded by The Friends of The Smith to improve the exterior of the museum and developed into a major new outdoor facility. It was created with the intention to cultivate visitors’ interest of the natural environment, whilst providing wildlife a sanctuary in the city.  The Friends remain the loyal caretakers of the garden, and it is maintained by a passionate group of volunteers who tend to it every week.