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Natural History Museum Diplodocus being 'flat packed' before nationwide tour

Dippy the Diplodocus is set to be "flat packed" ahead of his nationwide tour as work begins to take down the Natural History Museum favourite.

One of the venue's best-recognised exhibits, the 70ft (21.3m) plaster-cast sauropod replica made up of 292 bones, will bid farewell from January 5 when Hintze Hall closes.

Lorraine Cornish, head of conservation at the central London museum, said a team of six will start dismantling Dippy piece by piece - beginning with the tail - over three-and-a-half weeks.

Expecting him to fit into 12 crates, she told the Press Association that Dippy will be cleaned and repaired where required as he is prepared for his two-year tour.

Ms Cornish said he will also be fitted with a new armature which will allow him to be put up and taken down easily, as the current one was "not made for travelling or touring".

"We are drawing out a map so we can locate each part of that skeleton - we have a labelling system because some of the vertebrae look very similar," she added.

"Once you get them off you don't want to muddle them up, so we have developed a proper numbering system that works with dinosaur anatomy.

"When we come to put it back together we don't get anything jumbled up."

Made in 1905 Dippy took up residence in Hintze Hall in 1979 and in 1993 had his tail raised - in that time it is estimated he has been viewed by more than 90 million visitors.

Ms Cornish, who joined the museum when Dippy moved into the entrance hall, said his departure is "an emotional time" and that staff "bond" and "feel protective" about the specimens.

"I have seen first hand the amount of pleasure Dippy has brought families and people coming into the museum, but I am really excited that Dippy can go out on tour around the UK," she said.

"We are really keen for people to understand how important natural history is, and what a rich natural history we have in the UK.

"He has been stuck in Hintze Hall since 1979 - it will be great for him to get out on a journey."

Dippy's tour will start in early 2018 - venues will include the Dorset County Museum, which has a gallery dedicated to Britain's fossil-rich Jurassic Coast.

He will also travel to Birmingham Museum, Ulster Museum, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, Great North Museum in Newcastle, the National Assembly of Wales in Cardiff, Number One Riverside in Rochdale, and Norwich Cathedral.

Kat Nilsson, who is head of national public programmes at the museum, said there is a "really good geographical spread" of UK venues on his tour.

And that they wanted to reach audiences who would not normally engage with natural history collections, and actively looked for unusual venues such as a council building in Rochdale.

"We feel going for places like that, more people will want to go and see Dippy and they will get enthused and inspired by seeing this part of our collection," she said.

"Everywhere Dippy is going will have a different story and that story will connect with the local nature and the science and research that is going on in those regions.

"So people can get a really deep understanding of what's around them."

Quizzed on how difficult it is going to be to move the Dippy around, Ms Nilsson agreed it would be "quite a task".

"Dippy is going to be dismantled, completely," she said.

"And we are going to turn him, essentially, into flatpack Dippy so that he can be put together - probably in four days by the end of it, maybe even less."

At each tour location, Ms Nilsson said the display will tie into regional stories in the areas and will look at and consider things such as biodiversity and the science around there.

She said the tour is an opportunity for people from all over the country to be bowled over by Dippy, and that they want him to inspire "five million natural history adventures".

"The more people we get engaged with the natural history world, the more likely people are to want to study science ... but also a better understanding of the natural world," she said.

Dippy's coveted spot at the entrance to the museum is being taken by the real skeleton of an 83ft (25.2m) female blue whale, weighing 4.5 tonnes.

She will take up position from summer this year in a diving pose as she is suspended from the ceiling of the hall.

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