New initiative from Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank to protect UK trees takes root
With new pests and diseases attacking the United Kingdom's native treescape, Kew' 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.
Protecting the diversity of the UK’s trees
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.
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 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.
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 have been affected.Dr Paul Smith, Head of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank
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, absolutely 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.”
Prioritising the most vulnerable trees
A priority list of 50 trees and shrubs will be initially 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
Designated as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, this evergreen conifer species is quite rare in Britain and is at risk from the fungus-like pathogen Phytophthora austrocedrae.
Get involved - Adopt a Seed, Save a Species
We have successfully banked 10% of the world's wild plant species and we have set our sights on saving 25% by 2020.
Without plants there could be no life on earth, and yet every day another four plant species face extinction. Too often when we hear these kind of statistics there is little that we can do as individuals, but thanks to the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership and the Adopt a Seed, Save a Species campaign there is something that you can do to ensure the survival of a plant species.