Taxidermy is back in fashion - in some quarters. Here's a guide to the best collections in UK museums
Two bulldogs at the Natural History Museum at Tring, one of many taxidermy collections in the UK © Natural History Museum
1. The Booth Museum, Brighton
Hundreds of British birds are on display in the collection of Edward Thomas Booth. Born in 1840, he was a dedicated naturalist who tried to capture an example of every bird in the country. They sit in the museum he built amongst recreated natural habitats in an excellent example of ‘environmental diorama’, a display method pioneered by the Victorians.
2. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow
Home of the spectacular Sir Roger, an Indian elephant who came to Glasgow in 1900 as part of a travelling menagerie and had to be put down by soldiers after becoming ill. The collection also features many examples of Scottish wildlife, including a majestic golden eagle and two rutting red deer stags.
3. Oxford University Museum of Natural History, Oxfordshire
An important location in the evolution debate of the 19th century and now home to a popular touchable taxidermy collection. Give a cheetah a stroke or get your hands on native British animals like the fox and badger. There’s also a mummified dodo head, the most complete remains of the famously extinct bird anywhere in the world.
4. Ulster Museum, Northern Ireland
With over 200,000 beetles, bugs and butterflies in its collection, including most of the 15,000 that currently crawl around Ireland this is a dream destination for insect enthusiasts. Look out for the heaviest insect in the world, the terrifying goliath beetle from Africa, as well as the largest mollusc and largest butterfly.
5. Powell Cotton Museum, Kent
If you fancy going on safari then this is the place to come. Five hundred animals from Africa and Asia are on display in eight large dioramas showing scenes from their lives. Built to collector and hunter Major Powell-Cotton's exacting specifications, the first diorama was created in 1896 and is perhaps the oldest of its kind.
6. Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter
The Royal Albert has one of the largest natural history collections in the country and a taxidermy collection swelled by the dubious antics of big game hunter Charles Victor Alexander Peel who dispatched some of the stars in the collection. Marvel at the sheer size and beauty of Gerald the Giraffe – and then ponder the mindset of someone who could kill such a wondrous animal.
7. The Natural History Museum, London
Although the NHM in Tring is the real centre of taxidermy in the UK, the flagship branch in London boasts an amazing collection of stuffed animals and specimens - from zebras, asses and horses to tigers, polar bears, komodo dragons and bats.
8. The Manchester Museum, Manchester
Away from all the dinosaurs, mummies and live animals, the astonishing collection at Manchester Museum includes a sizable holding of zoology specimens. To be fair, much of this 600,000 strong collection is behind closed doors, but the taxidermy displays include some impressive specimens like a leopard, tiger and even a brown bear.
9. The Horniman Museum and Gardens, London
Quite apart from its famous walrus centrepiece, the Horniman has a fine collection of stuffed birds and mammals. Star attractions include a flying fox, a strange collection of domestic dog heads and of course the merman - or Japanese monkey fish - to give it its scientific name.
10. Weston Park Museum, Sheffield
Weston Park manages to combine the glass display ethos you come to expect of great taxidermy collections with a state of the art approach which reflects some of the recent changes to the display of animal specimens in museums. Their natural world case features everything from owls, monkeys, foxes and fishes reflecting the nineteenth century stuffing antics of the likes of Henry Clifton Sorby, Henry Seebohm and Margaret Gatty.