Wednesday, 28 June 2017

71 Years Wild: cataloguing and exploring the archive of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust

 Reed Warbler at Askham Bog in the 1930s, by Arthur Gilpin.
As we come into the last days of this year's #30DaysWild campaign, it seemed fitting to celebrate the end of my year-long project cataloguing the archive of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust - and what a year it's been! I've been lucky enough to delve right into the most detailed of archives, from the papers marking the establishment of the Trust and its day-to-day correspondence, right through to the note documenting the sighting of a single rare moth and a letter recording a daring dolphin rescue mission off Spurn Point. It's been a real dream come true for anyone with an interest in the natural world, the history of the conservation movement and also for me as an archivist at the start of my career. You can explore the 2000+ entries through our online catalogue, Borthcat.

When I started the project back in April 2016, there were 3.5 cubic metres of boxes to work through. A year later and there's almost double that amount as additional material has been sorted and deposited with us. Through the project we've also been able to develop new relationships with other organisations around Yorkshire which have led to the deposit of new archives relating to natural history, including Kit Rob's botanical notes and Dr Michael Thompson's bat recording study. It's really exciting to be able to build on our existing natural science records and to open these up as as research resource for everyone to use. 

Just part of one of  the lists of evocative
English plant names - among my favourite items!
As my first post as a qualified archivist, I felt equally excited and trepidatious to take on such a significant project and I feel like I've really learned a lot over the last year, not just about the incredible work YWT have been undertaking in Yorkshire over the last seven decades, but also about working on a collaborative project, balancing the different aims of the work across a fixed timescale and (on a practical level) learning my trade! I've been able to really get my teeth into some large-scale cataloguing work, and have also had the opportunity to blend these traditional archival skills with exploring the flexibility and functionality of  our cataloguing software, Access to Memory (AtoM), the open-source interface developed by the ICA and Artefactual Systems.

Perhaps most importantly, it's allowed me to share the archive with a wide range of user communities and to gather different perspectives on what archives mean to them. The YWT archive is so heavy with the histories of people across Yorkshire; the founders of the Trust, the pioneering staff who developed the Trust and cemented its position as a fearsome campaigning body at national and international level, and - crucially in an archive like this - documenting the vast contribution made by volunteers and members of the public who have been (and still are) dedicated to the landscapes of Yorkshire and to recording and preserving its wild places. 

Environmental data on Askham Bog, 1933.
Although the funded term of the project is now over, there is still a lot of scope to develop the YWT archive and to continue to unlock its research potential. The newly-catalogued material covers a wide range of disciplines and its relevance can be seen in the ongoing development of public policy. This is especially evident in the relationship between wildlife, habitats and agriculture - particularly in developing campaigns for raptor protection, in the control of bovine tuberculosis through badger culling and in the effects, and the mitigation of the effects, of coastal erosion. Even more recently, political changes in this country and America mean that records documenting climate and other environmental changes are ever more important. This project has allowed us to bring together an authoritative and accessible source of environmental data and to make it available to everyone. It has been a real privilege to work on this project and, although I am no longer working on the archive full-time, I will definitely be keeping things ticking over!

Lydia Dean
Project Archivist

Box count: 212/200 (couldn't resist!)

If there’s anything in particular you’d like to know about the project or how we approached it, do feel free to comment below or to get in touch through our Twitter or Facebook. You can also read other blogs on this project here.

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