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A snippet from my volunteer work on the ‘Dedicated Naturalist’ Project, helping to decipher and digitise, record and publicise the life’s work of naturalist extraordinaire, Dr Mary Gillham.


I have two weeks away from the project to move house and, when I get back, this is what I find. The table top is piled high with boxes of beautiful shells, from countries as far apart as Zanzibar and the Bahamas. These were Mary’s teaching collections, garnered from her many trips around the world from the 1950s right through to the late 1980s. When Mary retired from her position as a lecturer in Cardiff University’s Extramural Department, she left her collections for those who followed in her footsteps to use but, once the university’s focus shifted away from this type of lifelong learning, Mary’s shells were tucked away in cupboards, left to gather dust.

Now they’ve been rediscovered and gifted to the project. Project manager Al contacted the National Museum of Wales to see if any of the collection would be useful to them and their staff have since visited and taken some specimens but the rest can be used for displays and exhibits to help celebrate Mary’s incredible life and achievements. I was delighted to find some New Zealand shells amongst the boxes – a box full of scallops, large and small, and an equally diverse box of univalve shells, some with beautiful markings. I swear I could hear the waves thundering on my favourite Kiwi beaches when I held one up to my ear!

For the full story about the Mary Gillham Archive Project, check out our website, and follow our progress on Facebook and on Twitter.