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What's Eating The Museum?

Chris Ledgard explores how museums are waging war against the insect pests threatening their collections. From 2011.

Chris Ledgard hears how museums are waging war against the insect pests threatening their collections.

Anyone who has had a bad infestation of moths in their wardrobe knows the misery they cause.

But clothes - though expensive - can at least be replaced. For museum conservators, moth and beetle larvae pose a more serious threat. An insect infestation in a museum collection can destroy artefacts which are not only valuable but also irreplaceable.

Conservators explain the quandary they find themselves in: insect populations - particularly clothes moths - have increased rapidly in recent years. At the same time, chemical pesticides have been taken off the market because of safety fears. So the people responsible for our great natural history, ethnographic and costume collections find themselves in a continual battle to keep the insects at bay.

Guru of insect pest management, David Pinniger, takes us around the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford to see how conservators there are coping.

Chris Ledgard also visits the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Museum of London, and Dover Castle. And what's the secret to winning this war? It's simple, says David Pinniger - good housekeeping. And you have to learn to think like a moth.

Producer: Chris Ledgard

First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in August 2011.

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28 minutes

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Last Thursday 01:30

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