She sells sea-shells by the Seacroft shore...

Curator Rebecca Machin with a Helmet Shell. Picture by Simon Hulme

Curator Rebecca Machin with a Helmet Shell. Picture by Simon Hulme

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Despite the nearest seaside being more than an hour’s drive away, Leeds is home to one of the biggest and most important shell collections in the country.

And next weekend members of the public can get up close to some of the hundreds of thousands of intricate items at the Leeds Museum Discovery Centre.

The collection, which began around the early 1800s, is the third largest in the UK.

It is made up of roughly half a million shells from land and sea species, extinct and present, across the world.

Some shells are on display at Leeds City Museum, while the rest are kept at the discovery centre on Carlisle Road.

Rebecca Machin, curator of natural science at the centre, said deciding what to display is not an easy task.

“It depends on the story we want to tell,” she said. “We have a light exhibition coming up, so for that we will likely have the beautiful iridescent shells [these appear to have a rainbow colour in certain light].

“But all the shells have some sort of story. Baler shells, for example, were used to bail out water on boats.

“The shells tell us a lot about the evolution of molluscs, the evolution of life on Earth generally and also about our culture and conserving biodiversities.

“It is important that we have good examples of different species as so many are going or already have become extinct.”

Mrs Machin said her favourite shell is the xenophora.

“Bits of debris, like rocks and other shells, get stuck to the shell so it becomes disguised,” she said.

“It gives the creature camouflage protection from predators, because they don’t realise that animals are living under there.”

People will have the chance to see the collection and handle some of the shells at the ‘Super Shells’ discovery event, today, from 10am until noon.

Mrs Machin said shells are like a record of life on Earth and studying them tells us about conservation, evolution and different species.

There will also be family craft activities and a tour of the discovery centre. The event is free but visitors need to book a place in advance by calling 0113 3782100.

Conchology is the official term given to the scientific study of shells.

According to The Choncological Society of Great Britain and Ireland, it involves identifying, recording and preserving molluscs.

There are numerous types of species including gastropods – which include slugs and 
snails, bivalves – which include clams, oysters, mussels and scallops, and cephalopods – which include squid and 
octopus.

Leeds Museum Discovery Centre is located 1.5 miles south from the city centre, near to the Royal Armouries Museum.

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