Getting to Grips with Museum Pests


1997-777 condition on 28-2-2020 (29)

My name is Jade and I’m a Museum Assistant based at Bramall Hall, a stunning Elizabethan manor house in Stockport. While my role is primarily visitor facing – such as engaging with visitors to the Hall, and leading guided tours – there are a number of ‘behind the scenes’ responsibilities I have recently taken on. One of these is keeping check of the insect pests that can infest museums and devastate collections.

I had training for this at the end of last year, led by Bronwen, Janny, and Emma from Hat Works museum. Prior to this, I had very little knowledge of museum pests and the damage they can do. Working in an old, timber-framed building, the word “woodworm” was thrown around frequently, and it was pointed out to me that the clusters of tiny holes on the beams were the tell-tale sign of woodworm activity. Easy to miss unless you look closely. That was all I knew, and I was keen to learn more.

In the days leading up to the on-site training, I was given a copy of Pest Management: A Practical Guide, a fantastic resource from the Collections Trust, which introduced me to the very basics of museum pests with clear photographs to help identify them. There were dozens of insects that could potentially harm our collections at the Hall, some I’d never even heard of!

The training given by the Hat Works team was extremely interesting and helpful. Bronwen provided an excellent power point which took us through the most problematic pests in detail, and we learnt how to look for signs of pest activity and were given practical advice on how to manage it. Reflecting upon some past infestations at Hat Works, we discussed some potential “problem areas” around the Hall and why it was so important to keep a record of every pest we found. As well as this, we were shown how to set the pest traps, how to input any findings onto a shared database, and what steps to take should we discover a new or growing infestation. Janny and Emma showed us a beautiful Victorian dress which had been eaten away by clothes moths – the damage that could be done in a short space of time was staggering. All of this information was incredibly useful in the weeks and months ahead.

We came up with a rota to set and check the pest traps around the Hall once a month. Fortunately, for the first few months, no issues were identified. Most of the traps had caught spiders and flies – unpleasant, but not considered a problem for our collections. However, on checking the trap placed in the Visitor Centre, it became obvious there was a growing issue with silverfish, which eat soft material. The traps were regularly collecting 50+ of them, and it was clear we had to act immediately. I discovered that Oscar the Otter (a stuffed otter who used to live on Bramhall Park, now on display in the Visitor Centre) was responsible for this infestation. On closer inspection, much of Oscar’s fur and filler material had been eaten away on one side. After contacting Janny, she ensured he was taken away the next day to prevent further damage. It was clear that Oscar had not been displayed in the correct way, and not being in a case made him vulnerable to damage.

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It is a shame that one of our objects suffered this much damage, but there was something beneficial to take away from it. The training we were given and unfortunate situation with Oscar made it clear how cautious we need to be with how we display and protect our precious collections. Oscar is now undergoing a deep freeze and hopefully can be fully repaired. Lesson learnt! I am confident that any future issues with pests can be identified in plenty of time.

Thank you to the team at Hat Works who made learning about these unpleasant pests so interesting.

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