New Initiative from Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank to Protect UK Trees Takes Root
Embargoed 00.01 BST Friday 10 May 2013
With a host of new pests and diseases attacking the United Kingdom’s native treescape, Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank is tackling the threat by establishing the country’s first national collection of tree seeds – the UK National Tree Seed Project. The UK is unusual in that it does not have comprehensive and genetically representative ex situ collections of native tree populations for research and use in practical conservation.
Thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, who have provided £100,000 in funding, seeds from the UK’s best loved and most vulnerable trees and shrubs will be collected and protected in long-term storage in the vaults of the Millennium Seed Bank facility at Wakehurst Place in Sussex. The Millennium Seed Bank already safeguards practically the entire UK flora in its vaults and works to restore native plants and trees to their natural habitats.
The Project will ensure that the collection of UK tree seeds already protected in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank will grow and become more comprehensive, eventually representing the full genetic diversity of the UK’s tree populations. These seeds will be available to research organisations working on solutions to the threats facing UK trees, such as the control of pests and diseases. Ultimately, these seed collections can be used for restoring trees to the UK countryside and increasing tree cover. The Forestry Commission is a key partner, providing advice on target species and help with collecting seeds.
Dr Paul Smith, Head of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank says, “In the last ten years we have seen an increasing threat to our trees from many newly arrived, often very aggressive pests and diseases. In 2013 almost all of our favourite tree species, from oak to beech and ash are affected.
“Establishing the UK’s first comprehensive national tree seed bank is absolutely crucial. The UK’s tree cover is already amongst the lowest in Europe. Avoiding further degradation of our woodlands, and the wider environmental, economic and social impacts of this, ultimately hinges on conserving the valuable genetic diversity of our trees and shrubs.”
Environment Minister Lord de Mauley says, “Now, more than ever before, it’s vitally important that we protect our native tree species.
“Improving tree health is one of our top priorities and innovative projects like this, remarkable in their scale and ambition, are exactly what we need.”
A priority list of 50 trees and shrubs will initially be targeted for collection. These species have been selected and ranked according to key criteria such as their conservation ratings, prevalence in the landscape, vulnerability to pests and diseases and their native status.
Species targeted in the Project include:
• Common juniper (Juniperus communis) including the subspecies Juniperus ssp. hemisphaerica which is designated as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. This evergreen species is one of only three native conifers in Britain and is at risk from the fungus-like pathogen Phytophthora austrocedrae
• Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris)
This tree is increasingly at risk from pests and diseases including Dothistroma needle blight, pinewood nematode, pine processionary moth and the pine tree lappet moth
• Common ash (Fraxinus excelsior) http://www.kew.org/plants-fungi/Fraxinus-excelsior.htm
At threat from ash dieback (Chalara fraxinea), which first came to the public’s attention in spring 2012. This fungus kills the leaves and bark tissue, causes shoot death, cankers, crown dieback and ultimately the demise of the entire tree. Ash is also at potential risk from the emerald ash borer beetle
• Common alder (Alnus glutinosa)
This water-loving species, typically found in wet woodlands or alongside streams and rivers, is at risk from the pathogen Phytophthora alni
• Wild cotoneaster (Cotoneaster cambricus)
A rare species, with just a handful of wild trees found in one location in northern Wales
• Common beech (Fagus sylvatica) – http://www.kew.org/plants-fungi/Fagus-sylvatica.htm
Vulnerable to Phytophthora kernoviae, an invasive pathogen causing bleeding cankers on beech tree trunks
• Plymouth pear (Pyrus cordata)
Designated as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red list and one of Britain's rarest trees (found in only two locations in the wild). It is a wild relative of the domestic pear. This rare tree can be seen at Wakehurst Place, Kew’s country garden
• Silver birch (Betula pendula) and downy birch (Betula pubescens)
The silver birch is a genuine native, growing in the UK since the end of the Ice Age. Its papery-white bark distinguishes it from the downy birch, which has reddish bark that turns grey with age
• Yew (Taxus baccata) http://www.kew.org/plants-fungi/Taxus-baccata.htm
A native conifer rich in myths, legends and folklore. Although slow growing, yew trees can live for 2,000 or more years. Yew woodland is a characteristic woodland type of international significance found particularly on the chalk hills of southern England.
In future years the UK National Tree Seed Project will grow with the help of additional partners, including government agencies, landowners and conservation bodies. Partner organisations will be asked to make specific collecting commitments by adopting a species and collecting its seed from right across its distribution. Alternatively, they may commit to collect all species on the target list from a given geographic area.
Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Partnership is the world’s most ambitious plant conservation initiative and Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank is the largest facility of its kind. Collecting and conserving wild plant seeds provides an insurance policy against extinction, supports practical conservation and provides options for the future use of plants for the benefit of people and the planet. Most of the collections are available for research and over a third have a known use to people.
Dr Paul Smith, Head of the Millennium Seed Bank, and Clare Trivedi, UK National Tree Seed Project Coordinator, are available for interview. Please contact the RBG Kew press office on firstname.lastname@example.org / + 44 (0)20 8332 5607 / +44 (0)7881 953 420 / @KewPressRoom
Images are available to download from http://www.kew.org/press/images/index_kew.html (please contact the Kew press office for a user name and password)
NOTES TO EDITORS
• Although seed collections for nearly all of the UK’s native tree species are deposited in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, these collections do not represent the full genetic diversity of the UK’s tree populations. This is also true of many arboretum collections and the Plant Heritage collections (www.nccpg.com) held in private and public gardens around the UK
The Forestry Commission has divided the UK into 24 native tree seed zones. A species will only be deemed to be fully represented in the UK National Tree Seed Project when it has been collected from across its distribution (i.e. every seed zone in which it occurs) or from all genetically distinct populations where it is known
• Some of the species in the priority 50 cannot be stored in conventional seed banks, such as the oak, which does not survive drying and freezing during the seed banking process. Special storage options, such as cryopreservation, are being developed and tested for such species
• At 10%, the UK’s tree cover is amongst the lowest in Europe (average 37%) (Source: The Independent Panel on Forestry Final Report)
• During London Tree Week’ (11-18 May, 2013) visit Kew Gardens and explore our trees. For more about Kew’s trees visit the arboretum team’s blog http://www.kew.org/news/kew-blogs/arboretum-team/
• People’s Postcode Lottery is Britain’s charity lottery. Players play with their postcodes to win cash prizes while raising money for good causes in their area
• People’s Postcode Lottery manages multiple society lotteries promoted by different causes supporting a range of good causes. For details on which society lottery is running each week, visit www.postcodelottery.co.uk/society
• People’s Postcode Lottery is regulated by the Gambling Commission. It holds an External Lottery Manager’s Licence and promotes a series of society lotteries in Great Britain
• Postcode Lottery Limited is regulated by the Gambling Commission under certificate nr 829-N-102511-007 and 829-R-102513-007, dated 06 November 2012. Registered office: Titchfield House, 69/85 Tabernacle Street, London, EC2A 4RR
• For further information about People’s Postcode Lottery please contact Kathryn McAuley on 0131 243 4966 or Kathryn.email@example.com
• 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 over 1.5 visits every year. Kew was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2009. Wakehurst Place is home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. Kew receives approximately half its funding from Government through the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Further funding needed to support Kew’s vital work comes from donors, membership and commercial activity including ticket sales
• For more information about Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/save-seed-prosper/millennium-seed-bank/
• The Forestry Commission works to improve the lives of people in England and Scotland through the many benefits provided by sustainably managed woods and forests. These include sustainable timber production, public recreation, nature conservation, and rural and community development. It does this by supporting woodland managers with grants, tree felling licences, regulation and advice; promoting the benefits of forests and forestry; and advising Ministers in the UK and Scottish Governments on forestry policy. It also manages 900,000 hectares (2.25 million acres) of public forest land in England and Scotland owned or leased by Ministers to provide the above benefits. Through its Forest Research agency, it conducts world-class scientific research and technical development relevant to forestry
• For further information about Chalara fraxinea http://www.kew.org/plants-fungi/Hymenoscyphus-pseudoalbidus.htm
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