The natural science collections managed by Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums can be traced to the eighteenth century. Some of these early collections still survive today including birds from Marmaduke Tunstall's collection at the Great North Museum: Hancock and pressed plants, collected in Upper Teesdale, at Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens.
The largest collection can be found at the Great North Museum: Hancock and is owned by the Natural History Society of Northumbria. It includes most groups of animals, plants, rocks, fossils and minerals, mainly from the British Isles but also from all over the world. Some of the more important collections include rare fossil amphibians and plants from the coal measures of Northumberland collected by Thomas Atthey and William Hutton, African mammals collected by Abel Chapman, pressed plants (some from the late 18th Century including the Nathanial Winch herbarium), huge bird and birds' eggs collections, beautiful sea slugs collected by Albany Hancock and Joshua Alder, and a large collection of tiny sea creatures (Ostracods and Copepods) collected by George Brady, many from the famous round-the-world Challenger expedition of 1872-1876.
Many items from the Great North Museum: Hancock collection are housed in the Resource Centre in Discovery Museum.
Natural science collections at Sunderland Museum originated in 1810. Major donations to Sunderland have included the collections of Edward Backhouse and Charles Taylor Trechmann, which include minerals and fossils, butterflies, moths and mounted birds. The main collections from South Shields Museum are the exotic birds and mammals prepared by local taxidermist, William Yellowley (1823-1893). The most important part of the natural science collections owned by Gateshead include 350 birds in the Ravensworth collection, and birds' eggs from H. Russell Eastcott and Captain Hammond Nash.
There are over 600,000 specimens in the natural science collections managed by Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums. They are Designated as nationally important and are amongst some of the finest collections of their kind in the UK.