Wageningen UR is extremely unhappy about the problems that have arisen around the removal of its herbarium to Naturalis natural history museum in Leiden.
Wageningen's plant collection is digitalised the past years, photo: Guy Ackermans
The planned move of the Wageningen herbarium is a result of a merger of the Utrecht, Leiden and Wageningen plant collections back in 1999. By 1 January this year, the entire plant collection was to have been relocated in Leiden, but mid-December there was suddenly a spanner in the works. The Leiden collection turned out to take up more space than expected, so the building could not accommodate all 850,000 Wageningen plants. Naturalis found an alternative building in Zoeterwoude, where the Wageningen collection would be housed from 1 February.
Wageningen UR is not happy with this state of affairs, however. Manager Folkert Aleva has serious concerns about the collection. He wonders whether the plants can be optimally and accessibly stored at the alternative location. ‘It is not just here that there is dissatisfaction,’ says Derk Rademaker, secretary of the Plant Sciences Group. ‘It is felt within Naturalis, at the other partner universities and at the Dutch national herbarium as well.’ Rector magnificus Kropff gave voice to the concerns in a recent letter to Naturalis.
Toxic mercury residue
Josefine van Leen, head of the botany collection at Naturalis, understands the irritation: ‘The planning of the move has been useless. And to make matters worse, the communication about it was not good either.’ But she does not think there is any cause for concern about the accessibility of the collection. ‘As head of the collection, I naturally want it to be readily accessible to visiting academics and researchers,’ says Van Leen. She will not be able, however, to satisfy Wageningen scientists’ wish to have direct access to the plants, as was customary in the past. According to new labour guidelines, workers must be protected against the toxic mercury residues in plants conserved by old-fashioned methods. For this reason, the collection management has a gatekeeper function. But the housing problem is temporary. Ultimately, the collection will be housed in a new building at Naturalis museum that is due for completion in 2017. For the time being, the whole of the Wageningen component is still in its old location in the otherwise empty herbarium building on the Generaal Foulkesweg.