Cambridge Science Festival and volunteering at the Museum of Zoology.


Last month I travelled down to Cambridge to volunteer at the Museum of Zoology. Let me tell you, it is a fantastic place to visit, whether it is with  your family or alone, you won’t regret it. It is full of fabulous specimens and fantastic information for you to soak up! Plus it is free to get in!

I would like to mention that my visit was before the current UK Corona Virus lockdown strategy, and we were all following the advice that was to hand at that point in time.

And so without further ado, here is my experience of a combination of volunteering at the museum and exploring Cambridge. Enjoy!

Monday 9th March.

After spending 3 and a half hours on various trains I finally arrived in Cambridge. Not only is Cambridge a very pretty and prestigious city, but throughout March (6th-22nd to be precise) they were (at the time of arrival) hosting the Cambridge Science Festival. According to their website; ‘The Science Festival provides the public with opportunities to explore and discuss issues of scientific interest and concern and to raise aspirations by encouraging young people to consider a career in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

The best thing is that the most of the events were free. So, if you were in the area, it was filled with lots of fabulous events to pop down and have a look at all the amazing aspects of science that surround us or be inspired to study it yourself!

University of Cambridge Museum of Zoology and David Attenborough Building.

Tuesday 10th March.

I woke up feeling excited to start at the Museum of Zoology that morning. I felt as if I had put in place good foundations for securing further study or experience for a new career. In short, things were looking up, the first time in a long time. So, because I wanted to make a good impression, I decided to wear my new shoes – BIG MISTAKE! 40 minutes of walking took its toll quite severely on my poor feet. So instead of looking like the eager young professional I had hoped, sadly I arrived hobbling and very flushed!

Luckily, everyone I met was so lovely and welcoming. And after a diet coke and a raspberry and almond slice, I regained my dignity (I hope!). After my induction, I was shown around the museum, which reopened in 2018 after a 5 year renovation, funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund. It is very modern and bright; everything is clearly labelled and it flows through evolutionary time (something which zoologists/biologists or earth scientists would probably recognise). They have a fantastic range of specimens and it is very illuminating, you will definitely learn something new from your visit here.

After a lovely lunch with an old school friend, I headed back to the museum to have a look around myself from a visitor’s perspective. It felt so good to be back and involved in a subject that I really love. To be surrounded by people who are so inspiring and at the top of their game was empowering. We all knew what the study of Zoology entailed, and understood that Zoologists do not solely go on to work in zoos. Something which is understandable, and many do, but it can be incredibly trying when you have to explain to people what you studied.

Lepidoptera Specimens in the museum.

Wednesday 11th March.

I managed to get the bus into the centre of town (my feet were still feeling sorry for themselves). Today I was doing a morning shift as a ‘Visitor Engagement Volunteer.’ It was generally quite quiet, but a school group was in the museum and it was so lovely to see all the kids so excited and learning all about the natural world, and natural selection as a result of the expeditions of Alfred Russell Wallace and Charles Darwin. Their eagerness and chatter filled the halls; a poignant reminder that all of the work we are doing is to help conserve many of the species for their generation. I did have a quiet thought of hope to myself that their generation would be able to see extant (currently living) species from the museum, thriving in protected ecosystems and habitats, and our efforts in conservation will ensure that these animals will survive.

After my shift finished, I headed into town and got myself some lunch and then set off to visit some shops and explore the renowned architecture of the city. I repeat that I have never been to Cambridge before and this was soon made obvious as I got hopelessly lost in the beautiful winding allies and streets. However, I soon met up with another old school friend and went for tea at Pizza Express. I then dashed back to the Department of Zoology to direct people and attend an evening event as part of the Cambridge Science Festival.

The event was called: ‘Beyond 2020: what next for global biodiversity?’ and was hosted by a panel of experts in conservation; led by the CEO of Birdlife International Patricia Zurita. The aim of this discussion was to debate the current issues surrounding global conservation efforts, evaluating what needs to change, whether the next generation of conservationists will think differently and what has been put into practise since the 2011 Aichi Targets.

The Aichi Targets were devised at the 2011 Convention on Biological Diversity and include 20 targets divided into 5 strategic Goals to be achieved by 2020. I will leave the link to the Aichi Targets here.

It was mentioned, that of the 20 targets, only 4 have progressed; the most successful of includes creating and extending Protected Areas. It was also mentioned how important the control of Invasive Alien Species is on conserving Global biodiversity.

Shockingly, 7% of the world’s oceans are free of human activity and 1/3 of land is dedicated to crops and ¾ of land is dedicated to livestock. This is predominantly due to the increase in the human population and the consequent industrialised nature of farming across the globe. But as with all aspects of nature and ecology, it is an expansive web, and changing one aspect alone will not change the rate of global biodiversity loss. For example, our greed as a species has led to deforestation in favour for monocultures such as Palm Oil and infrastructure scars the landscape, preventing migration of species across their habitat, something which will inevitably lead to inviable populations of species. But to us it is ‘just a road’.  In addition, our encroachment on the natural world has led to a dramatic increase of Human Wildlife Conflict – an issue which affects millions around the world.

It was concluded that this year, being the start of a brand-new decade, clear decisive targets need to be set up and, most importantly implemented to engage with the general public to show the ambitious nature of these targets, and explain them in an understandable way.

One of the main things I personally learnt from this event was the sheer extent of the economic impacts on biodiversity and vice versa; GDP is highly dependent on nature. One member of the panel, an economist focussing on nature, talked about the benefits to global economy through ecotourism and various ecological services. But what truly astounded me were the facts and figures. At the World Economic Forum; 5 of the top 10 global risks (terrorism, pandemics etc) established were in fact environmental and a shocking 2/3 of the world’s population are negatively impacted by the degradation of nature and 3.2 billion people’s livelihoods are impacted by landscape degradation.

Like many aspects of the world today, the conservation sector needs to be more inclusive and diverse. A wider range of people need to be educated, engaged, encouraged, included and rewarded. It is necessary to work alongside the vital work of those fighting to improve equal Human Rights, Race, Education and Gender Equality and an understanding of indigenous peoples and move away from the western concept of conservation – of colonising land and acknowledge previous and existent injustices linked to conservation.

Naively, I had never considered that there was a dark side to conservation, perhaps apart from the lack of action – we need scientific research to understand the issue and combat it, but we then need to put it into action, rather than just reporting the demise of biodiversity.

And get this – this just about sums up our previous and (hopefully not) our current mindset on the state of the planet. Less than 0.05% of global GDP is spent on nature and I can’t remember the exact context of this next statistic, whether it is national or global, but we spend more GDP on Ice Cream than on Nature and Biodiversity.

Thursday 12th March.

I had a late start at the museum so I headed into town and had a look around the Fitzwilliam Museum. It is such an amazing museum. It is filled to the brim of various artefacts, from superb works of art, to porcelain, to glassware, to ancient archaeology. Definitely worth a visit if you ever find yourself in the area.

Main Entrance Hall of the Fitzwilliam Museum.

I arrived back at the Museum of Zoology in the late afternoon, to get crafty! The museum was hosting a creative event for children to think of all sorts of imaginative ways they would change Cambridge to be more environmentally friendly.

Because of the outbreak of COVID-19, we were unsure how busy we would be. But lo and behold, soon there were many families, all getting creative; thinking of inspirational, fantastical and brilliant ways to make Cambridge a more environmentally friendly place in the future – all from recycled materials to be put on display on the mezzanine in the museum over the weekend.

Now I have not done arty crafty things for many years, and it brought so much pleasure. It was very relaxing and it was so good to see all the kids and their families, really thinking hard coming up with some fantastic ideas, from vertical farming to non-polluting planes and plenty of birdboxes and forms of green energy. It was such a pleasure to see so many young kids, really think about the effects our actions have on the planet, and ways we can stop it. A real glimmer of hope, I think.

Friday 13th March.

Once again, I volunteered for a visitor engagement volunteer morning shift. The Museum of Zoology itself was quite quiet, so when I was not engaging with members of the public, I conducted some visitor surveys and then also went around some of the skeletons we have on the lower floor to make sure that their condition was as it should be and nothing had been damaged etc. This is essential work as some visitors can be over eager and start touching the exhibits.

Once my shift was over, I once again, met up with my friend and we went for an explore around some of University colleges and gardens and a lovely cup of tea and chelsea bun at Fitzbillies.

Saturday 14th March.

My last day volunteering at the museum (for now) finally arrived. When I arrived, I was greeted with the sad news that all remaining events of the Cambridge Science Festival had been cancelled due to Corona Virus.

However many people came to visit us. We had families of all ages, individuals, couples, even a wedding party (2 Zoologists had just got married and the first place they visited was the museum!). Although we couldn’t do all of the tasks the museum had planned, some of them could be modified to fall in line with government advice. We had animal riddles which had to be solved to find a specimen in the museum, with the tantalising prize of a sticker!  

We also set other challenges, should they have been accepted, to find various specimens such as the tooth of the biggest shark in the museum etc. Stickers were clearly like gold dust. The determination to discover, learn and win the prize of a sticker was obvious!

So that’s it, after having dinner with my friend, my time in Cambridge had come to an end. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The museum was fantastic, the city was beautiful, and the people I met and worked with were so lovely and friendly, I felt like I had been a volunteer for a long time! I will definitely be going back once I am able to. Not to mention the pup Sir Percy, who was very entertaining and has now become a great four-legged friend!

Sir Percy

I was back on the train and it was only then that whispers of Corona virus were becoming more and more serious. Sure enough, a week after my return home, the UK entered lockdown.

Although the museum, along with others, is closed – for now, keep an eye on their social media for more information, tours and activities to do whilst at home!

In these uncertain times, I just want to remind you that this will end. We will all be able to meet with our friends and loved ones in the summer sun. Until then, I hope you are all ok. Let me know what you are doing to keep occupied during lockdown. Stay safe.

Love Charlotte x

2 thoughts on “Cambridge Science Festival and volunteering at the Museum of Zoology.

  1. Fantastic post Charlotte! A really enjoyable and informative read! Some lovely affirming words we all need to hear at the end, too.

    S xxx
    (An old school friend)


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