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Wednesday, 1 August, 2001, 12:21 GMT 13:21 UK
Rare insects to go on display
Elephant beetle BBC
The elephant beetle will go on display to the public
A massive collection of rare insect species is to go on public display for the first time after a National Lottery funding pledge of almost 15m.

The grant will help the Natural History Museum in London, UK, move a step closer to the second phase of developing its Darwin Centre.

Up to 28 million insects, which are currently in storage, will be re-housed in the new centre.

Museum director Sir Neil Chalmers said that virtually none of the collection had been on display before.

Extinct species

He said: "In the past, our traditional insect displays have had a few thousand specimens on show at the most, so you can see how far we have fallen short of showing it to the public.

"A phenomenal collection is out of sight at the moment."

The Darwin Centre, which will also house the museum's collection of six million pressed plants, is set to offer increased access to specimens collected on the expeditions of Captain Cook and Charles Darwin.

Charles Darwin BBC
Species gathered by Darwin are in the collection
Extinct species such as the large copper butterfly, and thousands of other rare moths, beetles and spiders will be on display.

Deputy collections manager Sharon Shute said: "One of the main aims of the Darwin Centre is to house our very valuable biological collection in the proper environmental conditions.

"We've learnt a lot in the last 20 years about the conditions needed to keep it safe and it's very important that we have the funding for the new state-of-the-art buildings we need."

She stressed that they were "the national collection, not just display items".

'Time capsule'

She added: "Each is a little time capsule of information. You can use the collection, for example, for monitoring tropical forests and the decline and expansion of species and why that has taken place."

The National Lottery funding will also enable the centre to provide more laboratories and additional working space for 125 scientists.

Anthea Case, director of the Heritage Lottery Fund, which will provide the cash, said: "This is an exciting project with fantastic species which have not been on public display before.

"It will engage people's imagination because it's part of our history."

Phase one of the Darwin Centre project, which houses the museum's zoological collection, is due to open in 2002.

The second phase, with the botanical and entomological collections, will open in 2006 if additional funding of 25m is secured to complete the project.

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