A series of hot summers and mild winters over the last few years has contributed to an increase in the activity of carpet beetle (Anthrenus spp.) particularly in the south of England.1 Museum collections containing proteinaceous material such as wool, fur, feathers or mounted specimens provide potential food sources for the larvae (woolly bear) of carpet beetle which, unchecked, can cause widespread damage. Dramatic examples have been found in museums containing natural history specimens where entire entomological collections can be destroyed within months.2,3
South Kensington, where the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) is situated, is a recognized high-risk area for Guernsey carpet beetle (Anthrenus sarnicus).4,5 It is a complex site of approximately 12 acres with 7 miles of galleries and stores, many of which contain material vulnerable to insect attack. Reserve collections of tapestries, carpets and theatre costume are stored at Blythe Road in West Kensington, 3 miles from the main museum site. Insects know no boundaries and what might appear to be a localized problem in one gallery or store is likely to occur in adjacent areas containing material from other collections. Evidence of insect activity, identified as Guernsey carpet beetle, was discovered in a textile gallery in the autumn of 1989 and resulted in the formation of a strategy for pest detection and control throughout the museum. Early on in the V&A project it became clear that successful detection and prevention of potential infestation could be achieved only with the collaboration of many different sections of the museum. One of the primary responsibilities of the team initiating the pest control strategy was to heighten awareness throughout the museum by distributing basic information in the form of guidelines (Appendix 1), backed up by training sessions to staff most actively involved with the handling of objects. A second key element of the strategy was the recognition that on a large and complex site there is the likelihood of some level of continuous insect activity. In order to maintain a threshold which is as low as possible, parts of the strategy have to be repeated annually. Inevitably this leads to a
shift in museum priorities as a greater proportion of time is spent on preventive conservation. Some of the work can be incorporated into other essential operations such as surveys or store moves, but there remains a core of routine, systematic and labourintensive work which has to be built into each year’s work programme.