UK Seed Collecting Programme
The UK flora does not usually spring to mind when considering plants under threat of extinction. However, with ever-increasing pressure from intensive agriculture, urbanisation, road building, pollution and climate change, current assessments show that over 300 UK species are in danger of being lost from the UK countryside.
Collecting Ruppia cirrhosa seeds from the Cuckmere River, East Sussex
Before undertaking projects overseas, it was important to ensure the conservation of our own flora. The first phase of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Project (MSBP) 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).
2000 to date
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 achievement of Target 8 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) relating to ex situ conservation of threatened plants.
Some of the remaining species not represented by collections either do not produce seed in the UK, cannot be stored conventionally, or are too rare for a collection to be made without compromising the species’ survival. Efforts continue, however, to track down the last elusive species that do not fall into these categories.
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 the many seed collecting volunteers from our local Wildlife Trusts and the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI). We continue to rely on volunteers throughout the country to assist with locating populations, monitoring seed set and ultimately making the seed collections.
Ongoing priorities are:
- to conserve seed collections from the remaining bankable species in the UK flora
- to increase the number of multi-provenance collections and the availability of sufficient quantities of seed, particularly from our most critical species.
This ensures that we increase subsequent use of the collections, particularly through the UK Native Seed Hub, to promote and support habitat repair, restoration and reintroduction programmes across the UK.
Project partners and collaborators
Botanical Society of the British Isles http://www.bsbi.org.uk/
Natural England http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/
Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh http://www.rbge.org.uk/
Species Recovery Trust http://www.speciesrecoverytrust.org.uk/Index.html
The National Trust http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/
The Wildlife Trusts http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/