DiSSCo UK 10-year digitisation programme announced

by Tara Wainwright

5 min read

DiSSCo UK have been working closely with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to develop the case to digitise the UK’s natural science collections. We are excited to confirm the announcement of a £155 million investment by UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) in the programme, with our next step to build the business case for the programme. DiSSCo UK is part of the £473 million investment by UKRI into UK infrastructure, to continue the UK’s groundbreaking work in science and technology.

The funding will be used to support digitisation across the UK’s vast natural science collections, consisting of over 138 million globally important specimens. Alongside specimen digitisation, the grant will enable DiSSCo UK to build digital infrastructure and accelerate digitisation workflows through development of AI and machine learning. The data created through the project will be open access, available through GBIF and the DiSSCo UK data portal for all to use, creating greater access and opportunities for global collaboration.

Working with the UK collections community, DiSSCo UK will unlock and catalyse the full scientific, research and economic value of natural science collections. The UK’s collections are among the world’s most geographically, historically and taxonomically important and the uses and values of collections like these are unparalleled; from tracking biodiversity loss to informing policy and finding cures for diseases. The information attached to a digital specimen derives from the specimen’s physical label and may include location data, taxonomic classification, details of the collection event, and any analyses conducted on the specimen. The programme will make this data easily accessible to researchers across the globe, producing larger datasets that can be used as historical baselines to quantify the impacts of human activity and act as a vital resource for global change research and reducing the need for physical visits.

Digitisation also has significant economic benefits, as recent research has found that digitising the UK’s collections will generate over £2 billion for the UK economy by supporting growth in sectors such as medicine discovery, biodiversity conservation, and mineral exploration.

DiSSCo UK are excited to progress the programme through its next steps, working closely with AHRC and the natural science collections community. The programme is expected to begin in 2026 and continue over 10 years, implementing a scaled approach to digitisation. If you are not yet involved in DiSSCo UK and would like to be, please contact us at dissco-uk@nhm.ac.uk.