Volunteers visit Museum to participate in Notes from Nature

As we approach the transition to the new Notes from Nature platform, we are preparing to retire the ornithological registers from the project.  But before we do we are keen to get as much of the register transcribed as we can, so we have invited volunteers to the Natural History Museum, London, to give us a hand.

A day at the Museum Visiteering


Visiteering is the newest strand to the volunteer programme at the Natural History Museum, and offers one day volunteering opportunities.  Especially appropriate for people who can’t commit to volunteering over a longer period of time or who may only be in London for a couple of days, it provides the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the Museum’s work through participating in a digital challenge.

Monday 16th May was our first Visiteering day transcribing the Hume collection.  6 volunteers joined myself and Ali Thomas (Volunteers Project Manager) for a day in our Specimen Preparation Area and were presented with the challenge of collectively transcribing 48 pages of the Hume bird register.  After an introduction about Hume and how to complete the transcription task, we all worked together to decipher the handwriting, using online tools to check the species and location names we were struggling to work out.  The volunteers joined us for lunch in the staff restaurant and got a chance to visit our British collections in the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity.


Six volunteers joined Jade Lauren Cawthray at the Natural History Museum, to help transcribe the Hume ornithological registers.

The ornithological registers are a particularly challenging task to complete because each page requires the transcription of a large volume of data and because the handwriting is difficult to decipher.  Progress was slow, but we managed to collectively complete 23 pages of the register.  With three more Visiteering days to go (20th, 23rd and 27th May), this puts us on target to complete a quarter of a register, by our last Visiteering day.


Hume’s ornithological register is a record of specimens collected by Allan Octavian Hume in the 1800s, and now housed at the Natural History Museum’s site at Tring.

Despite the difficulty of the challenge the volunteers reported that they enjoyed…

‘Investigating and decoding the handwriting and working as a team to transcribe the register.’

‘Researching something new and discovering a variety of bird species.’

‘Understanding the way the museum works.’


A meaningful contribution to science

Unlocking the data from these registers is of huge value to the Natural History Museum, as it increases scientists’ access to the ornithological data.

We currently have three registers on the Notes from Nature platform, each containing records of the ornithological collection of a man called Allan Octavian Hume.  Hume lived and worked in British India during the 1800s working in a number of senior government positions and having a significant impact on the judicial system, on reforming agriculture across India and founding the Indian National Congress, which played a key part in India gaining independence.  In his spare time Hume made an incredible contribution to the ornithology of the South Asian region, amassing a personal collection of 63,000 bird skins, 500 nests and 18,500 eggs.  These were donated to the British Museum of Natural History (now the Natural History Museum) in 1885.  (For a more detailed account on Hume see our blog A Special Collection of Bird Ledgers’ by Birds Collections Manager, Robert Prys-Jones.)


Pericrocotus brevirostris, Short-billed Minivets, shot by Hume in 1865.

For the past 130 years Hume’s collection has been an essential resource for all research into the taxonomy and distribution of birds across South Asia.  The Museum receives requests for data from this collection on a regular basis, but we are unable to answer some of these queries because we are unable to conduct data searches by location, date, or species.  By digitising the data from these registers, we will be able to respond to many more of these research queries and therefore better support international research into the birds of this region.

A big thank you to Emma, Mitra, Fjolla, Mersije, Sarah and Xiaoyue who gave their time on Monday and made a valuable contribution to the Museum.  We look forward to welcoming our next visiteers on Friday.

There are just a couple more weeks left for you to help us transcribe this important data.  Spare an hour and see what bird species you can find amongst the pages of the Hume register.

Many thanks, Jade (Natural History Museum, London) and NFN team.


About Jade Cawthray

Hi, I'm the Science Community Coordinator for SYNTHESYS, at the Natural History Museum, London. My role involves the development and delivery of crowdsourcing projects for Museums across Europe.

2 responses to “Volunteers visit Museum to participate in Notes from Nature”

  1. Helen Bennett says :

    The Natural History Museum and Tring… takes me back to childhood. I grew up in Hertfordshire, just north of London, and went on school trips to both. I should aim to do a few pages at the weekend for sheer nostalgia! (and because it’s a good thing to do 😉 )

    • Jade Cawthray says :

      Ah, thanks Helen. It’s lovely to hear our project took you back to your childhood trips. The Natural History Museum’s Tring site is such a wonderful place. Please do have a go at a couple of pages this weekend and let us know how you get on. I’ll can pick up any queries you have on Monday. 🙂 Have a lovely weekend.

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