Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership ‘top banana’ as it celebrates banking 10% of the world’s wild plant species
15 October 2009
Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership, founded and led by the UK’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, is celebrating collecting, banking and conserving 10% of the world’s wild plant species by banking its 24,200th species – a pink, wild banana from China which is an important staple for wild Asian elephants. It is also a crop wild relative that is a valuable genetic resource for breeding new varieties of banana with disease resistance to ensure the continued cultivation of bananas in the future.
Musa itinerans, which, amongst other things, is increasingly under threat in the wild due to its jungle habitat being cleared for commercial agriculture, was collected in Southwest China by Kew’s local Millennium Seed Bank partner, the Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences. An official banking ceremony hosted by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s Director, Professor Stephen Hopper, and attended by representatives from Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partner institutions from around the globe, takes place at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, Wakehurst Place, Sussex, on 15 October 2009, speeches start at 10am.
- For more information on Kew's Millennium Seed Bank click here
The 10% target was set in 2000 when Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership was formed – and while this accomplishment is being celebrated today, a new target looms – collecting and banking a quarter of the world’s plants by 2020.
Professor Stephen Hopper, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, says, “I have been lucky enough to be at the helm of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew as Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership reaches its first decade. The success we are celebrating today is extraordinary and on a scale never before contemplated in global biodiversity conservation.
“In a time of increasing concern about loss of biodiversity and climate change, Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership provides a real message of hope and is a vital resource in an uncertain world. The need for the kind of insurance policy and practical conservation resource Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank provides has never been greater.”
“Kew’s response to these environmental challenges is the Breathing Plant Programme. Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership is at the heart of our plans to use our collections and plant science knowledge to do all we can to mitigate the effects of climate change and provide options for human adaptation.”
Dr Paul Smith, Head of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership, adds, “Banking 10 per cent of the world’s plants species on time and under budget is a major achievement and we have very good reason to be proud. However, there is much left to be done.
“Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank is not a doomsday vault where seeds are stored under lock and key – our mission is to use these seeds to support conservation and improve people’s lives. Most of the collections are available for research and over a third have a known use to people. This is very much what the next phase of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership is all about.”
The next phase of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership will run from 2010 to 2020 and will focus on threats to human wellbeing – food security, sustainable energy, loss of biodiversity and climate change – by safeguarding wild plant diversity and enabling its use. This includes:
- A collection programme to conserve a further 15% of the world’s plant species by 2020, storing a total of 25% of known plant life (75,000 species);
- Making seeds, scientific information and expertise available to organisations involved in researching and delivering the sustainable use of plants (for example, drought resistant crop and forage species, medicinal species and energy rich species) and the restoration of damaged vegetation. Restoration efforts will help combat the deforestation of temperate and tropical forests that currently accounts for 20% of global carbon emissions.
Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership will continue to focus on those parts of the world which are home to some of the world’s poorest people and where plant diversity is tightly bound to people’s livelihoods. It will also continue to work with mega-diverse countries such as Madagascar, South Africa, Mexico and China. Collection projects will prioritise species from alpine, dryland, coastal and island ecosystems, which research show, are most vulnerable to climate change.
The cost of this next phase is estimated to be ca. £140 million over 10 years (including more than £40 million already raised), or £2,000 a species. Despite its achievements and enormous potential for future conservation, Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership has a current shortfall of £100 million over 10 years. These funds will need to be raised both in the UK and overseas. Members of the public can support the work of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership by getting involved with the ‘Adopt a Seed, Save a Species’ campaign www.kew.org/adoptaseed.
For £25 an individual can adopt a seed or for £2,000 anyone can save an entire species. And saving a species is within anyone's grasp – if writing an individual cheque isn't possible, they can get together with friends, class mates and work colleagues to raise £2,000 to secure a plant species in safe storage for the future. Or they can sign up to receive more news about Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership and the campaign.
Says Dr Paul Smith, “This is a critical time for Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership as we move from the current, funded phase to the next – at a time when financial support is in short supply in all sectors. We are working hard to persuade potential sponsors and donors that every species we conserve has potential value. There is no technological reason why any plant species should become extinct. It is simply a question of priorities.”
Rt. Hon Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says, “Plants form the basis of all life on earth – from the important job of producing food and habitats for all wildlife across the world, to absorbing carbon dioxide in the face of climate change.
That’s why we need to protect and preserve the variety of plant species across the globe. Reaching this 10 per cent target is a remarkable achievement. Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership has harnessed the resources and ingenuity of more than 120 institutions and I would like to congratulate all involved in this truly global effort and its continued success as it works towards the targets for 2020.”
Professor Li De Zhu, Director of the Kunming Institute of Botany, China says, “The work of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership is remarkably important for humanity’s future and has led global plant conservation in an innovative and cost-efficient way. The Germplasm Bank of Wild Species in the Kunming Institute of Botany has become an irreplaceable hub of seed conservation in China thanks to tremendous support from Kew. The expertise and knowledge of seed conservation from Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership has rooted and propagated in China.”
Further information and images: Please contact Anna Quenby, Bronwyn Friedlander, Bryony Phillips or Tarryn Barrowman in the RBG Kew press office. Telephone 020 8332 5607, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. See the end of this release for contact details for MSB partner institutions.
Please visit www.kew.org/msbp for further information about Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership, including more information about international partner projects. A timeline and Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership in numbers fact sheet are available from the RBG Kew press office.
High resolution images of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank facility and seed collecting in the field are available to download from http://www.kew.org/press/images. Please contact the RBG Kew press office for a username and password.
Images of Musa itinerans will be available online from 06.00 hrs GMT 15 October 2009. Please contact the RBG Kew press office if you need access to images ahead of the embargo.
Notes to Editors
Press call timings
9.30am Coffee and tea served
10am Speeches – Professor Stephen Hopper, Dr Paul Smith and representatives of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank’s international partners
10.20am Q&A led by Dr Paul Smith with Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank staff and international partners
10.40am Opportunity to meet Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank international partners one to one/ interviews
11am - 12 noon Press tour of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank facility to commence in the vaults – opportunity to photograph/film Musa itinerans being banked
About Musa itinerans (common names: Yunnan banana, wild forest banana)
Musa itinerans is a wild banana species and closely related to edible banana cultivars. Its pink to light purple fruits are an important staple food for the wild Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) and other wildlife in the tropical jungles. Its young flowers and pseudo-stem is a popular dish found at local restaurants in Southwest China and adjacent regions.
Musa itinerans has been massively cleared from the jungle and its natural habitat converted for commercial agriculture. It is an invaluable genetic resource for the tropical fruits industry and is a conservation priority for its food security value.
When Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership’s 10% target was set in 2000, an estimate of 242,000 plant species in the world was used. Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership has collected 24,200 species, hence 10%. More recent estimates of the world’s flora average out at about 300,000 – approximately 2,000 new plant species are described around the world every year. However, in addition to the 24,200 species banked, we already had 4,774 species stored before the partnership began, meaning that we are close to 10% by that estimate as well.
About Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership
Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership is UK-led, and demonstrates to the world the UK’s commitment to conservation and biodiversity. The British Government’s grant in aid to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew has made a significant contribution to its success. It addresses human adaptation concerns highlighted in the Stern Review (2005), and has the potential to make a major contribution to the delivery of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (target date of 2015).
Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank is a unique, global asset – it is the largest seed bank of its kind in the world (dedicated to wild plant species) and contains the world’s most diverse seed collections. Over the past 10 years more than 3.5 billion seeds from nearly 25,000 species have been collected and stored in seed banks both in their country of origin and in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank. In October 2009 Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership now spans more than 120 institutions in 54 countries.
None of these nearly 25,000 species will become extinct as long as these seed collections are maintained in seed banks. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is committed to support the maintenance of these collections at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, and receives support from the British Government to do so.
The majority of these collections will live for hundreds of years in seed bank conditions. Some will survive for millennia.
The collections in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank are part of our biological inheritance to be passed on to future generations. They will help enable human innovation, adaptation and resilience, and will have huge economic benefit by underpinning the primary industries of agriculture, forestry and horticulture.
Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership is a tangible first step in bringing the enormous wealth of expertise in the world’s foremost plant science institutions to bear on the major environmental challenges of the 21st century – food security, sustainable energy, loss of biodiversity and climate change.
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew conceived a global seed banking project after the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank was completed and opened in 2000. Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership, the international phase of the project kicked off in 2001 and was based on the three central tenets of the Convention on Biological Diversity: conservation, sustainable use and equitable sharing of benefits.
Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank has the capacity to store more than half the world’s wild flowering plant species. In addition to holding 10% of the world’s wild plant species it also holds 96% of the UK native flora, including more than 75% of the UK’s threatened plant species.
For further informationwww.kew.org/msbp.
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding living collection of plants and world-class Herbarium as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a major international visitor attraction. Its landscaped 132 hectares and RBG Kew's country estate, Wakehurst Place, attract nearly 2 million visitors every year. Kew was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrates its 250th anniversary in 2009. Wakehurst Place is home to Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank. For further information www.kew.org.
Please contact the following Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank international partners directly
New South Wales
Kerry Brown, Acting Public Relations Manager, Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, telephone +61 (0)2 9231 8004, email email@example.com
Matt Jones, Acting Manager, Marketing and Communications, Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne & Australian Garden, Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne, telephone + 61 (0)3 9252 2494, email Matt.Jones@rbg.vic.gov.au
Clare Kinloch, Marketing and Communications Coordinator, Botanic Gardens of Adelaide, telephone + 61 (0)8 8222 9345, email firstname.lastname@example.org
DEC Public Affairs Branch
Nigel Higgs, Principal Communication Officer, email Nigel.Higgs@dec.wa.gov.au
Liz Grant, Media Relations Officer, email Liz.Grant@dec.wa.gov.au
Leanne O’Rourkes, Media Relations Officer, emailLeanne.O’Rourkes@dec.wa.gov.au
Main DEC Media telephone +61 (0)8 6467 5555 (24-hour number)
James Wood, Seed Bank Co-ordinator, Tasmanian Seed Conservation Centre, Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, telephone +61 (0)3 6236 3079, email James.Wood@rtbg.tas.gov.au
Stephen Harris, email Stephen.Harris@dpipwe.tas.gov.au
Mark Fountain, email Mark.Fountain@rtbg.tas.gov.au
Vickie Briggs, Bureau of Land Management, telephone +1 202-912-741, email Vickie_Briggs@blm.gov
Kate Blumm, Communications Manager, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, telephone +1 718-623-7241, email@example.com
Jesslyn Tiao Moser, Office of Public Affairs, New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, telephone +1 212- 360-1311, email Jesslyn.Moser@parks.nyc.gov
Gloria Ciaccio, Chicago Botanic Garden, telephone +1 847- 835 - 6819, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Barbra Rodriguez, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, The University of Texas at Austin, telephone +1 512-232-0105, email email@example.com
Please contact the RBG Kew press office to get in touch with all other partners
Full list of partners here at www.kew.org/msbp
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