Press Release

TV cliff-hanger for seed collectors!

A cliff-hanger hunt for an elusive plant will be highlighted on national TV next month (March).

Steve Alton, a seed expert from Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Project at Wakehurst Place, near Haywards Heath, ended up sitting on the edge of a cliff in a quest for seeds from the rare Ley's whitebeam tree.

The search is all in a day's work for Steve and others like him at the Millennium Seed Bank and will be featured on BBC 2's A New Year at Kew on March 2.

Scientists at the Seed Bank are leading the way in a worldwide conservation project, preserving rare seeds from around the world to save endangered plants for future generations.

Collecting seeds to store in the in Seed Bank entails hard work and dogged determination. Nearly one billion seeds have already been banked and currently seeds from 97% of British plants have been collected.

The Ley's whitebeam - of which there are only known to be 17 trees in the world - was one of the outstanding British species still to be collected.

Steve, co-ordinates the Seed Bank's British collection, and his quest for the Ley's whitebeam took him to South Wales. He knew the trees were growing in the Brecon Beacons - but their location on the side of a cliff in a steep valley meant collecting the seeds was not straightforward.

Reaching them involved sitting on top of the cliff, along with Tim Rich a botanist from the National Museum of Wales, armed with a pair of long-handled loppers and a fishing net. While Tim snipped berries containing the seeds from the tree, Steve caught them in the net.

Steve said: "People have the idea that seed collecting is all very high tech in exotic locations, but the reality is very different! On this occasion it meant sitting with a fishing net in the Brecon Beacons, but it did the trick.

"The Ley's whitebeam is incredibly rare and we are delighted we now have the seeds safely stored away."

Steve is pleased the popular TV programme is highlighting the work of the Millennium Seed Bank Project, and the need to protect native British species as well as those from abroad.

The Millennium Seed Bank Project is situated in the grounds of Wakehurst Place and is open to the public seven days a week. An interactive exhibition explains the pioneering role of the Seed Bank and visitors are able to see the work of scientists at first hand.

The Seed Bank aims to safeguard 10 % of the world's dry land species by 2010.

Wakehurst Place is on the B2028 between Ardingly and Turners Hill, four miles north of Haywards Heath, and is open daily from 10am. Tel 01444 894066 for more information or visit the website at

Note to editors: The programme is due to be broadcast on BBC2 at 8pm on March 2.

For further Press information please contact:


Public Relations
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Surrey TW9 3AB

Tel: +44 (0)20 8332 5607/5619


Wakehurst Place:

Public Relations
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Wakehurst Place
West Sussex RH17 6TN

Tel: +44 (0)1444 894018