Citizen science: Moths and the Edward Pelham Clinton collection

by Nick Fraser

5 min read

With over 2.5 million insect specimens in our natural science collection, National Museum Scotland (NMS) has been fortunate to receive many important collections over the years, donated by prominent naturalists. One of great significance to us is Edward (Ted) Pelham-Clinton, who devoted his spare time to collecting and recording, compiling one of the most comprehensive collections of British and Irish moths (35,600 specimens) in 1,518 localities ( He kept meticulous notes of his findings in 64 field diaries, documenting 2,169 species and approximately 160,000 observations. Together with the collection, this is probably the most comprehensive resource on British moths from 1930 to the 1980s.

This collection has become an invaluable reference for experts, biological recorders, and volunteers, who visit the collection regularly to extract data or to work with the specimens. The Covid-19 pandemic has made digitisation of his field diaries an urgent priority and we now have over 17,000 pages scanned and transcription is underway.

Ted not only made a substantial contribution to British Entomology through his writings but also inspired the current Biological Recording movement. NMS volunteers and associates continue Ted’s work recording biodiversity in Scotland, re-visiting some of the same sites that Ted visited and thereby providing society with critically important environmental monitoring information.