Posted by: henrymcghie | June 17, 2014

Nature’s Beauty and an Ecology of Mind

Originally posted on Finding Nature:

A couple of recent research papers have considered the role of nature’s beauty in nature connectedness and the associated benefits of well-being and pro-social behaviour. The first looked at how a connection to nature is related to well-being. In two studies the authors found that the positive relationship between a connection with nature and satisfaction with life was only significant for those people attuned and engaged with nature’s beauty. Or in other words, people who experience positive emotion when seeing beauty in nature have higher well-being.

The second research article focused on another benefit of nature – pro-social, or helping behaviours such as empathy and generosity. Once again these positives were found to be linked to nature’s beauty. First, in those people disposed to perceive beauty in nature, and then people exposed to beautiful images of nature and finally people exposed to more beautiful plants in a room.

Nature's Beauty

Nature’s Beauty

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Hello, I’m organising a two-day meeting, to be held at Manchester Museum on 18-19 June 2015. The meeting is titled ‘Refloating the Ark: Connecting the public and scientists with natural history museums’. This will explore how natural history museums can contribute towards environmental sustainability, by engaging effectively with the public and the scientific research community.

Call for presentations

I am looking for suggestions for presentations and workshops relating to the themes outlined below. Any format of session will be considered. Sessions should be 20–30 minutes in length; panel discussions and workshops may be longer. Presentations may draw on case studies, critical evaluations, innovations and projects from any sector. Suggestions from organisations of any size and groups of organisations are welcomed.


This meeting is underwritten by the belief that natural history museums can make a real difference, both to people’s lives and to the conservation of species, habitats and the wider environment. The intention of the meeting is to support high-quality public engagement with nature and environmental sustainability through museums, and to promote the use of natural history collections for scientific research and environmental monitoring. It is aimed at museum workers, environmental educators, conservationists, scientific researchers, amateur naturalists, funders and the biological recording community.


Day 1: Engaging the public with environmental sustainability in natural history museums

At a time when many species and habitats are at risk, there are widespread concerns about how people make sense of and engage with the environment and environmental issues.  There is relatively little information available on how museums can contribute to this situation.

  • How can natural history museums effectively connect audiences with nature and environmental issues, and what can they learn from other sectors?
  • How can natural history museums promote pro-environmental behaviour and what responsibilities do they have to do so?
  • How can natural history museums and collections support citizen science and lifelong learning about nature?
  • What parts can art, science and literature play in museums to promote environmental awareness and pro-environmental behaviour?


Day 2: Connecting natural history collections with scientific research

Many natural history collections are disconnected from scientific research, meaning that collections that could usefully contribute to species and habitat conservation are ‘beneath the radar’.

  • How can museums increase the visibility of collections on a shoestring?
  • What future do collections have as scientific infrastructure?
  • How can museums tap into experts—both amateur and professional?
  • How can museums connect with biological recording and environmental monitoring (lessons and opportunities)?
  • How can partnerships support museums to increase the use of their collections?
  • How can museums benefit from research funding—and where is it?

A wrap-up session at the end of each day will explore the subject of ‘Natural history museums: where do we want to head to next?’ in terms of the themes of the two days.

Please send an outline/summary of your proposal, including which themes it connects with, an outline of content and a suggested format to Henry McGhie at by 1st October 2014. Please get in touch if you have any questions.



I was on holiday in Orkney recently, so was really surprised to find bird bones from Orkney in the Museum collection- today- among the collection of the late Derek Yalden. Derek had many interests, one of which the development of the bird and mammal fauna of Britain. He had an enormous skeleton collection, including some material from archaeological sites; this collection was donated to the Museum in 2013 and is now part of the zoology collections. Among this is a box of material from Skara Brae, a Neolithic village, and from the Knap of Howar on Papa Westray.

Skara Brae and nearby monuments are a World Heritage Site, described by Historic Scotland in the following terms:

“The monuments at the heart of Neolithic Orkney and Skara Brae proclaim the triumphs of the human spirit in early ages and isolated places. They were approximately contemporary with the mastabas of the archaic period of Egypt (first and second dynasties), the brick temples of Sumeria, and the first cities of the Harappa culture in India, and a century or two earlier than the Golden Age of China. Unusually fine for their early date, and with a remarkably rich survival of evidence, these sites stand as a visible symbol of the achievements of early peoples away from the traditional centres of civilisation.”

Among the bones in the Museum are those of many birds still found in Orkney: Short-eared Owl (which flies by day), Skua, Puffin and Gannet. There are also others that have gone from Orkney- several bones of eagles (probably White-tailed Eagle), extinguished as a British bird in the early 20th century before being reintroduced in the late 20th century.

These kinds of collection help my imagination run away with itself, about what kinds of relationships people had with birds, how they thought of their seasonal appearances and disappearances, and what stories they told about them. Fierce-eyed owls, ferocious Skuas and skydiving Gannets are impressive to look at today, and probably were to people thousands of years ago.



Posted by: henrymcghie | June 9, 2014

Fed by the Forest, Life Makes Sense

Originally posted on Finding Nature:

This is a new blog and there are things to catch-up with, so this post is about two related research papers I tweeted earlier in the year. A more appropriate title would have been, ‘Meaning in Life and Connection to Nature’, but I felt that was a rather challenging title for a first post!

As it’s the first post let’s try to quickly cover some basics. As you’re already reading this, it’s likely you know about the state of nature and need for people to have a greater connection to nature, as being connected to the natural world is associated with greater pro-environmental behaviour and our own well-being. Nature connectedness is good for nature and good for you!

So how do we get people more connected, or reconnected to nature? That’s the main focus of my research just now, looking at the interventions and activities that can engage people with nature…

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Posted by: henrymcghie | June 9, 2014

Nature access versus nature connection

Originally posted on Finding Nature:

Urban environments shape and define us more and more. From a past embedded in the natural world, our innate design skills, driven by an imaginative mind, have allowed us to settle and farm the land. Then, further advances saw people leave the fields and villages for a contrasting life in towns and cities where most of us now live. This growing disconnection from nature can be linked to the wider state of nature and research has also shown a health gap between people living in rural and urban locations. It has been suggested that the reason for this difference is down to environmental factors such as pollution and unhealthy behaviours. However, recent studies have found a strong link between health and the availability and access to green spaces.

It seems that access to more urban parks is a priority. However, a recent research paper by Lin and colleagues suggests that…

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Posted by: henrymcghie | May 1, 2014

Nature, not just ‘red in tooth and claw’

We have an exhibition, ‘From the War of Nature’ that revisits the idea of a ‘struggle for existence’, a very widely misunderstood and misapplied phrase. The exhibition links to the WW1 centenary, and explores whether nature is cruel, nice or anything else. The answer is that it’s not one thing- it’s lots of things. Sometimes animals co-operate, collaborate or divide resources up between them. The old idea of nature red in tooth and claw is a very misleading one- and does a real disservice to the complexity of nature. The exhibition runs until September. It was very rewarding to work on.

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Posted by: henrymcghie | March 29, 2014

Using nature as your friend

Originally posted on Liberated Way:

You can turn nature to your advantage.
Bees have hidden advantages of providing a natural biological barrier to large animals such as elephants.

Bees have hidden advantages of providing a natural biological barrier to large animals such as elephants.

I now define sustainability as “action in harmony with nature.”  This definition of sustainability I use in forming policy and procedure in running my business.  I attempt to integrate sustainability into the core of my business, and to a certain extent into my life.

I consider that for every challenge a solution is found in nature.  All action can incorporate nature in the solution.  I offer an example of a challenge that farmers face with wild elephants who destroy home, crop and life.  The usual solution against an elephant that is destroying life, employment and home is to shoot it dead.

The sustainable solution is find an answer in nature that allows an elephant its life but protects the farmer from a rampaging elephant.  An article…

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Hello- I came across a great definition recently, that ‘inspiration is the feeling that motivates people to do something’. I love this, and have been thinking about it in relation to one of my main bits of work- which is looking at how natural history museums can effectively engage people with their environment, and support them to get more active (intellectually, physically, emotionally, even politically) with the environment.

I’d be very interested to hear anyone’s thoughts on how museums can connect with the feelings that people hold about nature. Whether it is your fondest memory, an extraordinary experience, thinking about a small thing differently, sharing stories, or anything else, please let me know.



Posted by: henrymcghie | March 20, 2014

Nature and museums

Hello- I’m in Oslo this week, talking at two seminars at the University on museums and nature. The first talk was on natural history museums, social responsibility and the natural environment. There has been a bit of questioning in the UK as to whether museums should be campaigning to support and protect the environment. This seems like a real no-brainer to me, as museums should be using their collections to engage people with objects and ideas about the world around them. It’s too easy for museums to become ‘a nice afternoon out’- if people are looking for more than that, we should be able to support them with their interests.

The second talk was on some of the ways that we have been rethinking natural history/natural sciences (or whatever you want to call it) in Manchester Museum. We’ve been very fortunate to secure funding recently for two major galleries (Living Worlds, 2011, Nature’s Library, 2013), refurbishment of a third (the Vivarium) and are currently working on a fourth (The Study). We’ve had an allotment, adult training course in wildlife recording, temporary exhibitions (with another coming soon in April) and more besides. My own interest lies in looking at how museums can articulate/rearticulate the messages they give out about people and nature, in order to better engage people with the world around them.


From the Natural Sciences Collection Association blog:

Originally posted on NatSCA:

MAconf2013I attended November’s Museums Association conference in Liverpool to talk, for NatSCA, on how having a natural science curator in your midst will help your museum to be greener. The session I was involved in, ‘Dead Zoos’, looked at addressing environmental issues from the natural science collection viewpoint.

Both Darren Mann and Henry McGhie spoke eloquently and sensibly about our unique position as natural scientists. We can engage all walks of life with nature and, as a consequence, we can also instil a sense of protectiveness. This, of course, includes caring about our changing climate.

I’ve heard him speak about this before but Henry’s admiration of the RSPB’s ‘giving nature a home’ campaign is always thought-provoking. The RSPB have set out to give people a framework for helping nature directly, and the public have responded.

Several of the questions from the floor asked for practical help in using their…

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