Pest Management

Many museums and houses have adopted Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a management system devised to help prevent pest problems occurring and target an appropriate response to infestations when they occur.

What is IPM?

IPM is a system for the care and safeguarding of collections; many professional disciplines are required for the management and maintenance of both the objects and the buildings in which they are kept. In order to prevent pests from causing damage pre-emptive action must be taken to reduce the risk of infestation. Many museum pests require specific environmental conditions (temperature and humidity) to thrive and modifying the environment may discourage attack. Pests need a food source - but a dirty carpet is much more attractive to moths than a clean one. A well planned and executed IPM programme can prevent problems occurring and prevent crisis as well as making the most effective use of limited resources.

Developing an IPM Strategy

IPM strategy should be tailor-made to the specific needs of a collection or historic house and should be practical and achievable. Its development takes time, needing commitment from staff for training and continuity of procedure over an extended period. The works required to construct, maintain or adapt buildings, storage and display facilities, and to put in place environmental controls and cleaning regimes may be costly. All strategies need to be reviewed and evaluated on a regular basis to ensure that they remain relevant and effective.

Pest infestation is minimised by preventing access to buildings, eliminating places where they might find undisturbed harborage, setting up measures for early detection and implementing a targeted and efficient eradication programme when required. Eradication methods developed in recent years are safer both for the environment and the operator in line with the current stringent health and safety regulations.

Prevention is better than cure

In order to develop an IPM strategy it is important to understand and recognize some of the key components of successful pest control:

  • Avoid pests - by keeping them out
  • Prevent pests colonising - by denying them safe haven
  • Recognize pests - the main species and the damage they cause
  • Assess the problem - by inspection and trapping
  • Solve pest problems - by improving the environment and carrying out appropriate treatments
  • Review IPM procedures - changing them when necessary to improve the strategy

The following case study relates to IPM work at Glasgow Museums' premises.

Survey work was carried out in five stores (Kelvingrove, Museum of Transport, Maryhill, The Burrell Collection, Museum of Scotland) over a period of eight months and was detailed in four reports. Recommendations were made on improving the fabric of the buildings and surroundings and controlling temperature and humidity as well as optimizing storage and access. A comprehensive approach to monitoring and assessing the problems was adopted at the outset: sticky blunder and pheromone traps were laid in a regular pattern in all rooms - one trap in each room or corner, depending on dimensions. The approach was refined as problem areas were identified. Reliance is placed on improving cleaning regimes: good housekeeping helps to disturb pests and deny harbourage from which an infestation can spread.

Recognition of pests was assisted by David Pinniger, (an independent entomologist providing consultancy and training in pest management for museums,) who went on to deliver training in IPM to museum staff.

Solution to pest problems: it transpired that there was a severe infestation of webbing clothes moth Tineola bisselliella in the Elephant Walk store. All stages of development were found on exhibits in one particular area, but adult moths were also flying into adjacent areas. The infestation was well established and putting the whole collection at risk.

The initial response was to use Vapona (now unavailable), at the recommended concentration, placed in a tent around the worst affected specimens; those objects that could be accommodated were placed in a freezer. Preparations were then made for a major freezing programme.

Specimens to be frozen would be:

  • those obviously infested with pests
  • those showing signs of infestation, (even if the signs looked old)
  • anything long haired

Specimens to be treated with Constrain, (water based insecticide spray with neutral pH), would be:

  • short haired, large or very awkward
  • skeletal exhibits showing signs of infestation

Preparation for freezing was thorough and time consuming and included stabilizing specimens on their mounts, surface cleaning, padding, protecting and supporting vulnerable parts (prior to bagging and sealing them in thick polythene, using aluminium insulating tape), labelling and recording.

Over 700 specimens were frozen at between -20 -25°C for 10 days (excluding the time taken to reach -20°C and thawing). The commercial freezer unit was loaded carefully with specimens 7-10 cms apart, leaving access routes through the unit. Data loggers were planted in two bagged specimens to check on the freeze cycle, which included six hours thawing; doors were opened approximately 1 hour before unloading. Great care was taken to check that polythene bags remained sealed due to the risk of condensation on the objects during thawing.

Quarantine: many of the specimens are at the Maryhill awaiting removal to Glasgow Museums Resource Centre, Nitshill for Stage 2 of the Open Storage & Access project.

(Top Right) - Packaging and sealing a large hairy mammal in thick polythene sheeting; seams were sealed with aluminium tape. All specimens were secured on their plinths, vacuum cleaned and their vulnerable parts protected and supported with padding prior to bagging.

(Bottom Right) - Working conditions were difficult, the environment dark, dirty and unhygienic.

Packaging and sealing a large hairy mammal in thick polythene sheeting

Working in a dark, dirty, unhygienic environment