Exploring the North East Nature Archive

Updates on ‘Nature’s Cure in Time of Need: New Voices for North East Nature’

The North East Nature Archive is full of treasures that show what nature has meant to people in the North East over centuries. From Sarah Dickson’s beautiful watercolours of mushrooms and flowers, to Albany Hancock’s sketches of sea slugs and Derek Shannon’s wonderfully detailed ornithological notebooks, the records in the North East Nature Archive give amazing insight into the social and natural history of the North East.

It’s been an absolute privilege to explore the collections of the North East Nature Archive over my first few months as Project Archivist. Working with wonderful archive volunteers, we’ve been discovering the records of the North East Nature Archive, uncovering inspiring stories about North East naturalists, and helping care for the collections by working on important archival tasks like box listing. Volunteer Mel Tuckett has been using the North East Nature Archive to find out about the history of engagement and access at NHSN:

“Exploring the archives to investigate the evolution of NHSN has been a fascinating journey so far. Going back to its beginnings in 1829, I have been reading the annual reports and tracing how the society changed from a well-to-do ‘gentleman’s club’ to one welcoming women to its activities and research.”

It’s been great to see the records of the North East Nature Archive inspire people across the region, too – we recently welcomed a selection of Margaret Dickinson’s watercolours back to the archive after a trip up to Berwick for an exhibition at the Granary Gallery, where they were enjoyed by 1950 visitors. Volunteer Mel helped me return them to their folders, and taught me a bit about botany in the process!

Archive Volunteer, Mel, organising botanical watercolours

It’s also been a busy few months of making connections with community groups and archives across the North East, getting ready to collect stories to add to the North East Nature Archive about how people connect with nature in times of need, like the Covid-19 pandemic. In February, I met with the lovely folks at the Young Women’s Outreach Project in Gateshead, who told me about the ways in which nature connectedness has been a part of their work with young people. It’s also been great to make strong connections with NE Youth, who tell us that young people are really keen to talk about the environment and climate change. We were thrilled to be joined by Deputy CEO of NE Youth, Gemma Lockyer Turnbull, at our last project group meeting. It was so valuable to have Gemma’s expertise on widening engagement with young people – and it was great to share Gemma’s excitement at seeing John Hancock’s sketch of a Japanese spider crab in the archive! As Gemma says:

“It was brilliant to be able to look at the North East Nature Archive! Being able to access such special documents and resources is fantastic and I would highly recommend the experience.”

Online meeting with various stakeholders on the Nature’s Cure Project

We know that connecting with nature brings benefits for mental wellbeing and sense of belonging – as does seeing your experience and community represented in history. While the North East Nature Archive is full of amazing stories and evidence of connection to nature in the North East, it does not yet represent the diversity of people and communities in the region. We will soon be launching our digital collection platform, to collect stories from people across the region about their connection and relationship with nature. I can’t wait to learn more about what nature means to people in the North East.

Stay tuned for regular updates on the ‘Nature’s Cure in Time of Need: New Voices for North East Nature’ project, and get in touch with me if you’d like to volunteer as part of the project: nena.nhsn@newcastle.ac.uk.

Kate Guariento
Project Archivist

Kate leads on the Nature’s Cure in Time of Need: New Voices for North East Nature project.

She works with local communities within the North East to engage with people whose stories are under-represented.