Long-eared owl
The virtual UK-Environmental Specimen Bank catalogue (UK-vESB)

Science challenge

In the UK, we spend about £16 million each year on collecting and archiving environmental (e.g. biological and chemical) samples for research. The UK virtual environmental specimen bank aims to maximise the return on this investment by creating a centralised open access catalogue. This catalogue will allow specimen collections to be discoverable and allow exploration of what has been collected. Visitors can view the range of samples available for research along with the standard operating procedures, protocols and best practice employed. By improving access to information on archived specimens, researchers will be able to develop new science and identify trends in emerging environmental pressures and threats.

Project summary

We surveyed 86 UK-based organisations to find out what samples were collected, how and why they were archived and what type of facility specimens were stored in. We developed the concept and outline functionality of a UK virtual Environmental Specimen Bank (UK-vESB) then built a catalogue and have added initial entries to test the system.


To enable sharing of samples and expertise we have created the UK-vESB to catalogue UK environmental specimens and archives (including tissue and specimen archives, museum collections, science facility collections, etc.). Our aim to enable researchers and specimen holders to share resources and ‘advertise’ holdings, protocols and best practice.


Papers and reports



The first public version of the UK-vESB will host records from UK-SCAPE projects (e.g. Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme (PBMS), National Fish Tissue Archive, UKCEH Countryside survey soils and vegetation). The utility of this service will be evaluated by the community and feedback used to develop and enhance the final UK-vESB for roll-out to the UK research environment and the public with a possibility to include catalogue entries from an international audience; interest was ascertained from attendees at the 5th International Conference on Environmental Specimen Banks, Sweden when the UK-vESB concept was presented in 2019.

We have been working with partners at the PBMS, WILDCOMS partner schemes and the specimen banking community (Chaplow et al, 2010, Chaplow et al., 2012) to create a unique community service and welcome participation from all relevant disciplines that are collecting, storing and archiving samples including those from research activities and museum collections.

Project lead - Jacqueline Chaplow