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UK Flora Seed Collecting Programme

This programme aims to increase the representation and availability of UK native seed collections conserved in the Millennium Seed Bank. Ever-increasing pressure from intensive agriculture, urbanisation, road building, pollution and climate change highlights the need for ex-situ conservation and current assessments show that over 300 UK species are in danger of being lost from the UK countryside.


Photo of people wading in the Cuckmere River, East Sussex
Collecting Ruppia cirrhosa seeds from the Cuckmere River, East Sussex

The first phase of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Project (MSBP) took place between 1997 and 2000. It was important to ensure the conservation of our own flora before undertaking large scale projects overseas.  Work commenced with the ambitious target to conserve all of the UK’s native flowering plants that produce bankable seeds. 

It was thought that there may be a number of species that present special storage difficulties, for example aquatic species which disperse their fruit or seeds under the water surface.  Research at the MSB has found that, perhaps surprisingly, the majority of such species are easily stored under standard seed bank conditions, which means these seeds survive drying (desiccation-tolerance).

Some species either do not produce seed in the UK or cannot be stored conventionally. Also, a number of critical species are being carefully managed in-situ and a seed collection may compromise the species’ survival in the wild.

Collecting and research work is ongoing and, to date, over 90% of the UK’s native seed-bearing plants are represented by seed collections at the MSB. This is the first time that any country has underpinned conservation efforts of its wild flora in this way and the collections contribute to the UK’s fulfilment of Target 8 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) relating to ex situ conservation of threatened plants.

Current priorities for projects within the programme are:

  • To conserve collections from the remaining species which produce seed and can be stored.
  • To increase conserved collections from threatened species by further sampling of populations across their distribution in the UK.
  • To increase the availability of seed collections for research, education and restoration of habitats
  • To increase the availability of seed collections and plant material for conservation projects and seed producers through the UK Native Seed Hub

In total, more than half of the seed collections have been harvested by the active and skilled volunteer botanical community in the UK. We are particularly indebted to support from the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI) and our local Wildlife Trusts and continue to rely on volunteers and specialist botanists throughout the country to assist with locating populations, monitoring seed set and ultimately making the seed collections.

Project partners and collaborators

Botanical Society of the British Isles

Natural England


Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh

Species Recovery Trust

The Wildlife Trusts

Project funders

Esmée Fairbairn Foundation (2015-2019)

J Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust (2015-2017)