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Millennium Seed Bank Project in South Africa

Ex situ conservation of the wild flora of South Africa has been carried out since 1997. Partners SANBI have upgraded the dry room facility at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens with advice from the MSBP, while long-term cold storage of the collections is arranged with the National Plant Genetic Resources Centre in Roodeplaat, near Pretoria. Several species re-introduction projects have been undertaken.
The rare Roridula dentata in the wild (Image: Carly Cowell, SANBI)

The MSBP collaboration in South Africa was initially agreed in May 2000 for a five year duration. In 2005 it was extended for another 5-year period, and in 2010 for another five. Thus the formal collaboration with South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI - formerly the National Botanical Institute NBI) covers the entire review period. The Partners agreed to work together with the purpose to deliver a fully integrated ex situ conservation strategy in 2005, which aimed to produce a ‘joined up’ approach to ex situ conservation. This included:

  • Seed collection and storage
  • Working in partnership with in-country organizations
  • Seed propagation
  • Species reintroduction
  • Capacity building

During the first phase of the MSB South Africa Project (2000-05) methodologies for targeting, collecting, processing and banking seed were developed. In addition, information on the collections made (e.g. seed numbers, quality and germination protocols) was gathered at the MSB and repatriated to South Africa.

A key achievement of the second phase (2005-10) has been to apply these methods to as many threatened species in South Africa as possible and to develop links and working relationships with other conservation practitioners (such as Cape Nature and the South African National Parks SANParks). This has resulted in a network of in situ and ex situ conservation projects in South Africa to which the MSBP has provided services. These included practical help in areas such as botanical survey and seed collecting, processing and germination testing, as well as training in these methodologies. In return, Kew has continued to receive duplicates of the data, herbarium vouchers and seed collections. Targeting of important (rare, endangered, endemic) species was aided by the development and use of Collection Guides for various important regions in the country: a total of eight Guides were produced at Kew’s GIS Unit and an additional two at SANBI, containing pertinent information on 601 taxa out of a considered 654 and 5,600 data based specimens compiled by SANBI and Kew. Training input varied from hands-on practical seed handling to co-supervision of PhD research.

During 2006-11, seeds from 4134 collections of more than 2480 native species have been conserved in South Africa and at the MSB.

Publications since 2006

  • Cowell, C. and Hitchcock, A. (2009). Kenilworth Racecourse Conservation Area (KCRA) – a biodiversity island in the urban sprawl. Samara 17: 5.
  • Cowell, C. (2007). Contributing to Target 8: the use of seed bank collections from threatened species for habitat restoration in South Africa. Samara 13: 9.
  • Hitchcock, A. (2006). Integrated conservation at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. Samara 10: 1.
  • Nurrish, L. (2006). Millennium Seed Bank collection trip: de Hoop nature reserve, January 2006 (reports on two rare endemics found there). Samara 11: 3.
  • Stoll, N. and Tyambetyu, O. (2011). Re-introduction of Serruria furcellata and Erica verticillata in Cape Town, South Africa. Samara 20: 8. 

Project partners and collaborators

South Africa

Project funders

  • Millennium Commission (2006-10)
  • British American Tobacco Biodiversity Partnership(2006-7 only) 

Annex material

South Africa Collection Guides (2006-08): Albany, and Wolkberg (both SANBI-produced), Maputoland Centre of Plant Endemism, Eastern Grasslands, Savanna of the Eastern Escarpment, Drakensberg, Gariep, Limpopo, and Cape Peninsula and Flats (all MSB-produced). Prepared by the Species Targeting Team for the Millennium Seed Bank Project.