The quality of the research at Naturalis is rated as “excellent”, research facilities are “state of the art”, the collection is “unique” and its relevance to society is no less than “world leading”. This was all said by an external top visitation committee, and their report is out now. Today, Edwin van Huis, general director, and Maaike van de Kamp, director of research, handed it to Marcelis Boereboom, director-general of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Research.
In 2010 the Ministry wanted one national research institute for biodiversity based on the national collection. Naturalis Biodiversity Center was formed by the merger of the Zoological Museum Amsterdam, the National Herbarium of the Netherlands and the original Naturalis, the former National Museum of Natural History. Now, after 10 years, the conclusion of the visitation committee led by prof. dr. Rianne Letschert of Maastricht University is that Naturalis has evolved into an “excellent” research institute, and its relevance to society is considered “world-leading.”
“The Naturalis approach may serve as an example to the rest of the world”, Letschert et al write. The PhD program, the efforts to push open science and the recognition of talent that goes beyond high-impact publications are all applauded. As are the good relationships with universities in both the Netherlands and Belgium - with the professors to match.
Special praise is reserved for the way Naturalis engages with the public, for example in the LiveScience exhibit where visitors can interact with our researchers and collections specialists, and for citizen science projects also including the ObsIdentify app that allows volunteer observers to contribute observations to science. The excellent media outreach was also mentioned. Of course Naturalis is proud of so many compliments, and of the efforts of all the employees with which they are earned.
The full report, called Assessment of the Naturalis Research Quality 2014-2019, can be found here, and Naturalis’ response to it is here.
Improvements to make
Of course there is also room for some improvement. The committee is worried about our increasing dependence on honorary and corresponding researchers for taxonomic expertise, for instance. Naturalis could work harder to involve non-Dutch researchers in its outreach activities. And, most importantly: “the funding situation of Naturalis is alarming”. Budget cuts leave the institute with an increasing deficit, and makes it harder to solve all of the other problems signalled by the committee. “To remain competitive in the global playing field and continue its ambassador role for Dutch biodiversity research, it is crucial that Naturalis will receive sustainable long-term funding”, Letschert et al write.
The directors Edwin van Huis and Maaike van de Kamp-Romijn share their concern. “In the light of the current biodiversity crisis, our research and outreach efforts are more important than ever, so we are glad to hear we are doing them well. However, the report also shows that we cannot keep on doing them in the long term, without additional funding. We are grateful for the committee’s work, and hope their recommendations will be taken seriously.”