Sowing the Seeds of UK Biodiversity: Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank launches UK Native Seed Hub
17 August 2011
Today (17 August 2011), the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew launches the UK Native Seed Hub at the Millennium Seed Bank, Wakehurst Place – an initiative that draws on the Millennium Seed Bank’s extensive collection of UK native seeds, as well as its horticultural and scientific expertise to support the UK seed industry, conservation groups and other organisations working to restore native plants to the UK countryside. The UK Native Seed Hub will eventually support restoration efforts across the full spectrum of UK habitats, but will focus initially on plants of lowland meadows or semi-natural grassland.
Funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, with a gift of £750,000 as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations, the money will establish the project over four years. The UK Native Seed Hub will comprise a dedicated seed store, and approximately one hectare of seed production beds, which are currently being developed. For the first year, interim seed production beds, open to the public until the end of September, have been set up in the walled nursery at Wakehurst Place.
For images of the UK native Seed Hub please click here
These are home to 10 native species, such as the cuckoo flower (Cardamine pratensis) and devil’s-bit scabious (Succisa pratensis), both of which have been difficult to cultivate for seed production in the past. Visitors will also be able to experience a newly restored lowland meadow around the Millennium Seed Bank building.
Grasslands like these are a precious but vanishing habitat. Fragments survive in areas that have not been ploughed, re-seeded or heavily fertilized. They contain a diverse range of plants which in turn support a variety of insects, birds and other animals. Compared to the 1930s, only 2% of species-rich grasslands remain and the potential for restoring these attractive habitats is immense.
Working alongside commercial companies and restoration practitioners, Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank experts will create high quality seed stocks of selected UK species, stored to international standards to maintain viability and genetic integrity. Samples from these stocks will then be made available to commercial seed companies for bulking up for use by conservation organisations in landscape-scale restoration projects. In the event that land management changes alone cannot achieve natural regeneration of the plant community, seed can be highly effective for increasing the species diversity in a restoration project.
Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank will also continue to work with conservation agencies to safeguard the UK’s most threatened plants. Conservation collections will be held in long term storage, but seeds and plants will also be raised to support the re-introduction of these species to suitable sites.
The UK Native Seed Hub will include scientific research and development studies to strengthen the quality and diversity of UK native seeds and plants available for restoration, thus playing an important role in addressing the UK Government’s commitment to protecting biodiversity and improving the UK’s ecological network. Knowledge and information generated by the UK Native Seed Hub project will be shared freely and training will be provided to landowners and agencies wishing to grow and use native plants.
The project will start with lowland meadow species and restoration work will be carried out in partnership with The High Weald Landscape Trust’s Weald Meadows Initiative, based in West Sussex. These include dyer’s greenweed (Genista tinctoria); harebell (Campanula rotundifolia); pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris); green field-speedwell (Veronica agrestis); bugle (Ajuga reptans); sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica); ragged robin (Silene flos-cuculi); purple betony (Betonica officinalis); birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus); oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare); common knapweed (Centaurea nigra); flatweed (Hypochaeris radicata); cowslip (Primula veris); devil’s-bit scabious (Succisa pratensis); saw-wort (Serratula tinctoria); autumn hawkbit (Leontodon autumnalis); cuckoo flower (Cardamine pratensis) and common sorrel (Rumex acetosa).
The model established for lowland meadows will provide a blueprint for supporting restoration in another 40 priority habitats listed in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, the UK Government’s response to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The UK Native Seed Hub also addresses concerns outlined in the Government’s Natural Environment White Paper and responds to the challenge of the Lawton review, ‘Making Space for Nature’ (2010).
The success of the UK Native Seed Hub depends on partnership with landowners, commercial wildflower seed producers and conservation bodies across the UK. The model of the UK Native Seed Hub is inspired by the approach of many of the international partners involved in the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (the international conservation project founded and led by Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank).
Professor Stephen Hopper, Director (CEO and Chief Scientist), Kew says, “As the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership moves forward into its next decade, environmental challenges are becoming ever more acute. Not only is it now more critical than ever that seeds are stored in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, but it is also essential that we use the collection and our expertise to assist the restoration of lost habitats and the reintroduction of lost species to provide a better environment for future generations. The UK Native Seed Hub is a significant first step on this road.”
Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, says, “When I visited the new Native Seed Hub I saw Kew’s vision to capture this precious genetic information for our children’s children.
“In our recent Natural Environment White Paper we set out our plans to restore, protect and improve habitats. These state-of-the-art facilities show our commitment to keeping nature’s riches safe.”
Adds Paul Smith, Head of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, “Increasingly, as awareness has been raised of the importance of UK biodiversity, we have been responding to growing interest, and commercial demand, for native UK plants for restoration.
“Having started to work with commercial seed companies and small conservation organisations, it became evident that the availability, suitability and quality of seed for reintroduction and recovery initiatives in the UK were somewhat limited. Commercial companies were often unable to provide seeds genetically adapted to the intended site of restoration, and local conservation organisations had insufficient financial clout and technical back-up to influence the market to provide the right kind of seed.
“Therefore, it made complete sense for us to look at how Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank could help, and the UK Native Seed Hub project was born.
“Use of appropriate native plants will help landowners create diverse habitats, which will ultimately provide a healthier landscape for us all.”
Iain Parkinson, Kew’s Conservation and Woodlands Manager at Wakehurst Place, says, “We have been managing our own species-rich grasslands under the framework of Environmental Stewardship – the Government’s principal scheme for increasing biodiversity. The UK Native Seed Hub will help to deliver these objectives and in doing so protect and enhance some of the UK’s most vulnerable habitats.”
Dawn Austwick, Chief Executive, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, says, “Having worked with The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, over the past 10 years to preserve the seeds of the world’s wild plants, we are delighted to support the launch of the UK Native Seed Hub as part of our fiftieth birthday celebrations.
“By working with commercial organisations and conservation groups this project will ensure the protection of some of the UK’s most threatened species and restore some of our most beautiful meadowlands. By increasing the diversity of our countryside the Hub will support endangered wildlife and provide a rich environment for people across the country to enjoy.”
Giles Laverack, Managing Director of Scotia Seeds, based in Brechin, Scotland, says, “The UK Native Seed Hub brings the resources of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank to an emerging area of conservation and biodiversity. Kew’s expertise in seed science and seed quality and in plant conservation is a fantastic resource which is really unparalleled.
“The UK Native Seed Hub will bring an authoritative voice to the supply and use of native seeds which will be a great help to the industry and will allow us to move on to a new level. It’s a very timely initiative and very welcome.”
The aims of the UK Native Seed Hub are:
• To increase the quality, quantity and diversity of UK native plants and seeds available to conservation organisations and others involved in habitat restoration projects to enhance UK biodiversity
• To support UK Native seed producers and conservation agencies through the provision of high quality seed stocks, information and advice
• To develop research into improved nursery and plant production techniques for UK native plants
On a small scale, Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank has already shown how critical its UK seed collections are to the reintroduction and recovery of threatened species such as the triangular club rush (Schoenoplectus triqueter), which until last year was extinct in all but one of its former sites on the River Tamar in Devon, and the critically endangered starved wood sedge (Carex depauperata), reintroduced to a newly-coppiced woodland on the Charterhouse Estate near Godalming, Surrey, also last year). Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank safeguards around 90% of UK species in its vaults – almost all of the native flora.
For more information please contact the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew press office on +44 (0)208 332 5607 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Images are available to download herehttp://www.kew.org/press/images/uk_native_seed_hub.html. Contact the press office for a user name and password
Graham Cousins, Managing Director, British Flora, says, “As a specialist grower of British native wild flowers for restoration and enhancement projects we see the UK Native Seed Hub project as a very positive step forward to support the plant production and seed industry. Partnerships between world class research institutions such as Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank and the native wildflower industry are key to maintaining up to date knowledge and providing the most sustainable solutions to restore wildflowers back to the countryside.”
Notes to editors:
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 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. RBG Kew and its partners have collected and conserved seed from 10 per cent of the world's wild flowering plant species (c.30, 000 species). The aim is to conserve 25 per cent by 2020, and its enormous potential for future conservation can only be fulfilled with the support of the public and other funders.
Kew receives funding from the UK Government through Defra for approximately half of its income and is also reliant on support from other sources. Without the voluntary monies raised through membership, donations and grants, Kew would have to significantly scale back activities at a time when, as environmental challenges become ever more acute, its resources and expertise are needed in the world more than ever. Kew needs to raise significant funds both in the UK and overseas.
More about Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank’s UK collections here http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/save-seed-prosper/millennium-seed-bank/projects-partners/partner-regions/united-kingdom/
More about the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation http://www.esmeefairbairn.org.uk/
The UK Native Seed Hub will be developed as a not-for-profit venture and seeds and technical services will be shared freely or offered on a cost recovery basis.
Why start with lowland meadows?
Lowland meadows are one of the priority habitats in the UK Biodiversity Action Planhttp://jncc.defra.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=5155
A wide-ranging approach is adopted in this plan to lowland grasslands treated as lowland meadows. They are taken to include most forms of unimproved neutral grassland across the enclosed lowland landscapes of the UK. It was estimated that by 1984, semi-natural grassland in lowland England and Wales had declined by 97% over the previous 50 years. Losses continued during the 1980s and 1990s at a recorded 2-10% per annum in some parts of England (UK Biodiversity Action Plan). Re-creation of lowland meadow on appropriate sites to restore losses has been established as a priority with the South East Biodiversity Action Plan.
Which of the other 40 priority habitats will the UK Native Seed Hub focus on next?
Ground flora of woodlands, chalk grassland, and lowland heathland.
Will the UK Native Seed Hub focus on the rarest plants?
No, rarity is not the focus of the project. The lowland meadows species the project will start with are quite widespread in the UK, but for a variety of reasons these species have been missed during enhancement of many grassland habitats.
How are collections currently saved in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank being used for this project?
Most of our collections are too small for use in habitat restoration. However, ‘founder’ collections of target UK species saved in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank are being used to produce high quality, genetically suitable native seed collections. We will store and test these collections, and multiply this seed for use by growers, landowners and conservation organisations in landscape-scale restoration projects.
There are some 4,000 plant species in the British Isles, of these only 1,407 are classified as truly native. http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=1739
Definition Ecological restoration: Ecological restoration is the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed. (Society for Ecological Restoration, 2004. The SER International Primer on Ecological Restoration)
Definition Plant reintroduction: Reintroduction is the deliberate establishment of individuals of a species into an area and/or habitat where it has become extirpated with the specific aim of establishing a viable self-sustaining population for conservation purposes. Plant reintroduction can involve the establishment of an extirpated species into a relatively intact habitat or it can be part of the restoration of a degraded habitat. (Michael Maunder, 1992. Plant Reintroduction: An Overview, Biodiversity and Conservation, 1: 51-61)
More about the Defra Natural Environment White Paper http://ww2.defra.gov.uk/environment/natural/whitepaper/
Lawton, J.H., Brotherton, P.N.M., Brown, V.K., Elphick, C., Fitter, A.H., Forshaw, J., Haddow, R.W., Hilborne, S., Leafe, R.N., Mace, G.M., Southgate, M.P., Sutherland, W.J., Tew, T.E., Varley, J., & Wynne, G.R. (2010) Making Space for Nature: a review of England’s wildlife sites and ecological network. Report to Defra. http://archive.defra.gov.uk/environment/biodiversity/documents/201009space-for-nature.pdf
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