A history of world leading seed research and collection at Kew
Scientists at Kew first thought about seed storage in 1898, and there has been a formal seed bank for over 40 years. Extensive research into seed physiology and storage has been undertaken since the mid 1960s.
Gordon Brown holding the billionth seed collected by the Millennium Seed Bank Project in 2007
H.T. Brown and F. Escombe publish 'A note on the influence of very low temperatures on the germinative power of seeds'. Studies were carried out at Kew.
Seed research is undertaken by the Physiology Section of the Jodrell Laboratory, using collections at Kew.
Rudimentary seed bank built up during late 1960s by Kew's Living Collections Division to support the annual exchange of material between botanic gardens.
Physiology Section transfers to Wakehurst Place.
Seed bank incorporated into Physiology Section at Wakehurst Place under Dr Peter Thompson. First major seed collecting expedition to the Mediterranean.
The building of the Orchard Workshop (one of Britain's first metric buildings) incorporates a purpose built seed bank and the provision of modern glasshouse facilities.
Purchase of a "mini" computer for data handling.
Dr Thompson leaves; Roger Smith takes over.
Banking and research functions clearly separated.
Kew's Millennium Seed Bank focuses collecting to support Kew's Survey of Economic Plants for the Arid and Semi-arid Tropics. This project is now known as SEPSAL.
First full-time seed collector appointed, with the support of Professor Mike Bennett (former Keeper of Jodrell).
Second full-time seed collector supported by Marks & Spencer, and later by an appeal from the Friends of Kew.
Initial draft for a global seed banking project.
Financial planning for the project commenced, undertaken by Sir Jeffrey Bowman, retired co-chairman of (the then) Price Waterhouse World Firm.
Proposal for the Millennium Seed Bank Project submitted to the Millennium Commission in February. Central to the Project were the building of a new facility including public interpretation, the collection of the UK seed-bearing flora and the collection & conservation of 10% of the world’s seed-bearing flora (nominally 24,200 species). Successful application (eventually for £30m) announced on 22 December makes front page news (London Evening Standard) and has widespread TV coverage.
Millennium Seed Bank Appeal launched on 31 May by HRH The Prince of Wales with Sir David Attenborough as patron.
Kew's Foundation under its Chief Executive, Giles Coode-Adams secures substantial sponsorship including that of Orange plc, the premier sponsor.
John Lavin, Kew's Director of Operations becomes Project Director.
The Wellcome Trust announces substantial donation to the MSB Project. Reception hosted by HRH The Prince of Wales at St. James's Palace on behalf of the Project.
The UK Flora Programme is launched with the aim of substantially completing the representation of the national flora in the bank.
Construction of the Wellcome Trust Millennium Building starts.
The Seed Conservation Department under Roger Smith is established to manage the Project.
Professor Sir Ghillean Prance, Director of RBG Kew and a key player in the establishment of the Project, retires.
The UK Flora Programme part of the Project substantially completed.
Second phase of the seed conservation Project begins, involving partner organisations around the globe.
Roger Smith is awarded an OBE in the Queen's New Year Honours for services to the Project.
Wellcome Trust Millennium Building completed and opened by HRH the Prince of Wales on 20th November.
Agreements on collaboration signed by seven countries.
‘Seed Conservation: turning science into practice’ workshop held in the Wellcome Trust Millennium Building and attended by many of the international partners. This leads to a 1,000 page book of the same name that sets the global knowledge baseline for the Project.
Collaboration agreements signed with 16 countries.
Award of a supplementary ‘Enhancement’ Grant by the Millennium Commission to support partner organisations particularly in the area of targeting.
Start of the first of three 3-year Darwin Initiative projects addressing seed conservation challenges in trees and horticultural species involving 30 countries.
European Seed Conservation Network (ENSCONET) funded for five years by an EU grant of € 2.5m. Involves 19 institutes from 12 countries (eventually 24 institutes in 17 countries) with RBG Kew as co-ordinator.
First MSBP-supported international PhD studentship is completed, based on a study of a rare palm from Madagascar.
Roger Smith retires as Head of Seed Conservation Department and Leader of MSB Project to take over a fund-raising role in support of the Project. His place is taken by Dr Paul Smith who had previously worked as an International Co-ordinator for the Project.
Ground-breaking paper on ‘A brief history of seed mass’ with Australian and USA co-authors published in the journal Science.
Species intake for the international phase of Project exceeds 10,000. Formal partnerships with 47 organisations in 17 countries.
Publication of the first of three seed-related ‘coffee-table’ books by Dr Wolfgang Stuppy, bringing the wonder and beauty of seed morphology to a public audience. Seeds:Time Capsules of Life [more books from the MSBP]
The project's billionth seed is collected and presented to Gordon Brown (then Chancellor of the Exchequer) at 11 Downing Street. It is later banked on International Biodiversity day by Barry Gardiner, the UK Government's Minister for Biodiversity, Landscape and Rural Affairs.
Species intake for the international phase of the project stands at just over 18,000 by the end of March - 75% of the way towards reaching the target.
First phase of project delivered on target and within budget. Development of plans for a successor phase of work.
An exhibition ‘Banking on Life’ displayed in the Nash Conservatory at Kew.
Celebration of the collection & conservation of 10% of the world’s flora was held in October including a review and planning workshop attended by 54 participants from partner organisations and a dinner at Wakehurst Place hosted by The Rt Hon Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. The 24,200th species to be banked is chosen to be Musa itinerans from China. The celebration is covered by 336 items in the media.
With the Millennium Commission-funded work completed, a new phase ‘MSB-2’ started. Based on the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (the network of partner organisations) it aims to collect 45,000 species not currently banked, by 2020. A significant emphasis is placed on the use of seed collections for habitat restoration and improved livelihoods. Development of a suite of projects is planned that will deliver these goals. Early success was key involvement with the Global Crop Diversity Trust in the Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change Project funded by a $50m grant from the Norwegian Government.
Another success was securing a £750k gift from the Esmee Fairburn Foundation to celebrate its 50th anniversary for the support of a UK Native Seed Hub Project. This aims to help increase the availability and use of native seed in habitat restoration.
Another important financial event, was a significant annual infrastructural grant from Defra for four years to support the operation of the bank. This provided much-needed financial stability to the effort.
Dr Wolfgang Stuppy helped source material for the Thomas Heatherwick designed ‘Seed Cathedral’ UK Pavilion at the Shanghai Exposition. The Seed Cathedral which was inspired by the Millennium Seed Bank was visited by more than eight million people and won the prize for the best pavilion.
A new phase of the Useful Plants Project is launched with substantial grants from private donors.
The UK Native Seed Hub is launched.
The electricity required to power the Millennium Seed Bank’s cold rooms is solar-generated following the installation of photovoltaic panels funded by British Gas on the Wellcome Trust Millennium Building.
The Useful Plants Project now operating in eight countries.
Plans underway to heat the Wellcome Trust Millennium Building using renewable energy by means of a wood-chip boiler.
A substantial grant received from a private donor for a pilot afforestation project in the Sahel region of Africa.
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