Sowing the seeds of UK biodiversity - Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank launches UK Native Seed Hub

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew launches the UK Native Seed Hub at the Millennium Seed Bank, Wakehurst – 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.

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17 Aug 2011

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Michael Way in the wild flower meadow at Beech Farm

Michael Way in the wild flower meadow at Beech Farm.

What is the UK Native Seed Hub?

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. 

View our UK Native Seed Hub website

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

Professor Stephen Hopper, Director (CEO and Chief Scientist), Kew.

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.

 

These are home to ten 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 Kew's Millennium Seed Bank.

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.

Keith Datchler collecting seed at Beech Farm
Keith Datchler collecting seed at Beech Farm.

Safeguarding the UK’s most threatened plants

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.

Protecting biodiversity

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).

When I visited the new Native Seed Hub I saw Kew’s vision to capture this precious genetic information for our children’s children.

Caroline Spelman, Environment Secretary.

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).

Working in partnership

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.”

Agrimonia eupatoria
Agrimonia eupatoria at Beech Farm.

Paul Smith, Head of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, adds “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.” 

UK Native Seed Hub aims

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.


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 Kew's 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.

Adopt a seed for just £25 | Save a plant species outright


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9 comments on 'Sowing the seeds of UK biodiversity - Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank launches UK Native Seed Hub'

ian mcdonald says

11/04/2013 9:16:58 PM | Report abuse

Hello Michael, the ground where the C. pratensis is taking over is my lawn. The seeds have germinated among the close cut grass rather than a bare area. The seed have spread from the adjacent border which contained two plants originally. This is why I wondered others had found the establishment of this species from seed a problem. I have also germinated seed of Scheuchzeria palustris quite easily.


ian mcdonald says

11/04/2013 5:01:07 PM | Report abuse

The UK Native Seed Hub is a good idea. A pity the general public cannot be included in this and help the conservation of rare species by being provided with seed.


Michael Way says

10/04/2013 9:32:51 AM | Report abuse

Hi Ian, thanks for your comment which does ring true in many situations where damp bare ground is available for this species to germinate and establish. However, when attempting to establish this species into more recently created grasslands, the traditional hay and seed mixes failed to transfer seed of this species which is such an early seeding plant, hence the need to give it a helping hand. Michael


ian mcdonald says

08/04/2013 10:28:10 PM | Report abuse

Interesting that you say Cardamine pratensis are difficult to cultivate for seed production in the past. They are so invasive in my garden I have to cut them with the mower to reduce the number of seedlings.


Michael Way says

31/10/2011 10:08:54 AM | Report abuse

Dear Jo, There are many projects working to further conservation of wildflower grassland and one such project in the Weald is a Kew partner, the HWLT-Weald Meadows Initiative (WMI). The WMI work closely with Government bodies such as Natural England to provide support to meadow owners. The WMI Officer (Dawn) can be contacted via: http://www.highwealdlandscapetrust.org or through our link on the UK Seed Hub page. We hope that this will be of assistance.


michael king says

16/09/2011 10:03:14 PM | Report abuse

I live in a late Victorian development built on what was originally an orchard. I and my neighbours have in our gardens a diverse collection of apple and pear trees, none of which we can identify. You - Kew - might like to examine them.


Susan Bernhardt says

01/09/2011 2:18:25 PM | Report abuse

Very important initiative - give them all the support you can. A healthy environment is one that represents as much natural diversity as possible, be that plant or animal. Let's all Be a part of the protection of our natural species!


Robert Hall says

28/08/2011 11:51:46 AM | Report abuse

You must join the Grasslands Trust, or even Plantlife!


Joanna Vassie says

17/08/2011 8:28:18 AM | Report abuse

I am so cross to hear today (yet again) about our disappearing natural wildflower meadows. We have superb meadows which have been in CC Stewardship for 20 yrs. I cannot even get anybody from natural england to look at them. We are trying to get Higher level paid now but they say the money has gone. I met with Oliver Letwin he said the same. Shall I now spray and re-seed with productive grass???????


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