Thursday, November 22, 2007

Climate change prepares way for museum bugs

Norwich Evening News (UK): Museum bosses fear global warming and increasingly extreme weather could result in more bugs gnawing away at precious collections. The Evening News revealed earlier this year how the county's museum collections were being eaten by pests, with staff at Norwich Castle Museum facing the prospect of putting hundreds of specimens on ice to kill off beetles and Strangers' Hall fighting off an invasion by hungry moths.

But fears are mounting that such infestations could become more frequent as climate change wreaks havoc with the behaviour of insects. In a report which went before members of Norfolk County Council on Tuesday, the potential of climate change leading to more museum invasions and flooding buildings is highlighted as a “key challenge” for the cultural services department.

The report warned: “Irregular weather patterns, notably wetter, warmer and stormier, put historic collections at increased risk from water incursion and pest infestation, resulting in higher collections management costs.” Martin Warren, collections and information manager at Norfolk Museums and Archaeological Service, said: “With climate change, we are getting more exotic creatures which we are not used to and some of them might turn out to be pests.

“Milder weather can also aid the survival of other bugs, which might only breed once a year, but are now not being killed off in the winter and breeding more frequently. “We end up having to combat that through staff time and sometimes cash, such as with the freezer we have introduced at the castle.”

Museum bosses are currently planning to take more than a thousand specimens in Norwich Castle Museum's natural history section off display to be frozen because they are infested with the larvae of carpet beetles.

The museum has spent thousands of pounds on a large walk-in freezer to treat the specimens to kill the bugs, which are also known as woolly bears and can grow up to 5mm, but due to problems with vibrations, they cannot use it until anti-vibration pads are placed beneath it.

Mr Warren said an added problem created by climate change was the likelihood of more severe weather, with the Norfolk coast fortunate to escape relatively unscathed following a tidal surge earlier this month. He said: “An increase in storms is a worry because when we get a storm the drains which run underneath the Castle Museum cannot cope and we find water spurting out from the pipes. That leads to flooding and the damp can have a lasting effect.”

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