An Indian blue peacock butterfly from the Parlett Collection
The Museum holds a collection of over 200,000 biological and geological specimens accumulated since 1883. The natural history collection shows how the local environment has evolved over millions of years into the landscape we see today.
Before television nature programmes and cheap travel, museum collections had a vital role in bringing wildlife and the natural world to people and in the early days, with no other museums nearby, we collected widely within Berkshire and adjacent counties, Britain and overseas. Today, collecting focuses on recording Reading’s natural environment. Collections still provide a unique opportunity to examine animals at close quarters, and many specimens are used in our school loans boxes and provide models for artists. Museum collections are also an irreplaceable resource for scientists studying historical changes in species distribution or genetic diversity. This can help people understand why species might have declined, contributing to future conservation efforts.
Our collection contains an enormous diversity of material, from Siberian minerals to Kennet Valley midges. Although we no longer have the exotic large mammals given by early collectors, one existing highlight is a representative group of British deer. Most of these are on display in the Green Space gallery, including an impressive red deer stag from the royal herd at Windsor. King George V presented this in 1911, together with a hind and a calf. The deer were mounted by the famous taxidermy firm Rowland Ward of London, who were specialists in big game trophies. ‘Bertie’, the badger in the Box Room, is another firm favourite with many of our visitors.
The significant entomology collection consists of 150,000 insect specimens that reflect the biodiversity and environment of Reading, Berkshire and neighbouring counties. The collection also reflects the interests of local collectors who donated specimens from elsewhere in Britain, Europe, India and Africa. Butterflies and moths make up about half of the insect collection, but beetles, bugs, flies, wasps, bees, ants, cockroaches, grasshoppers, earwigs, dragonflies and other groups are also represented.
The geological collections are divided into Mineralogy, Palaeontology (fossils), and Petrology/Stratigraphy (rocks). There is good local material but much is from elsewhere in Britain and overseas, including many high quality specimens collected in the 19th century. The fossil collection is the largest: over half the geological specimens catalogued are fossils. For more information about local geology represented in the museum collection, follow the links on the left-hand navigation. You can also find information sheets about natural history subjects in the Museum Album on the right - select 'Natural World' from the category search.