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 (UK-vESB) enables the discovery and exploration of specimen collections. Visitors can view the range of samples available for research along with standard operating procedures, protocols and best practice employed. This improved access to information on archived specimens allows researchers to develop new science and enables identification of trends in, and threats emerging from, environmental pressures.

Project summary

The catalogue was developed iteratively following stakeholder survey and workshops in 2010 and 2016. We asked 86 UK-based organisations what samples were collected, how and why they were archived and what type of facility specimens were stored in. We also analysed whether, if a centralised resource was built, what that would ‘look like’ to be most useful to the wider archiving community. We developed the concept and outline functionality, and built the UK virtual Environmental Specimen Bank to these specifications.


To enable sharing of samples and expertise we 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



To create an entry for your specimen collection or archive facility, please contact Jacky Chaplow.

The first public version of the UK-vESB hosted 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 was 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 are 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 we 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