UK National Tree Seed Project
Kew's Millennium Seed Bank is establishing the UK’s national collection of tree seeds for long-term conservation and as a resource for research and conservation.
Mixed lowland woodland viewed from Wakehurst Place, West Sussex (photo RBG Kew).
Trees in the UK are currently facing unprecedented threats. There are a host of new pests and diseases with potentially landscape-altering consequences, as well as climate change which could mean changes to species range and increased tree stress and damage caused by wind, flooding and drought. All this could be potentially devastating to wildlife and the forestry industry in the UK. At the same time trees and forests are increasingly valued, not only for the resources they provide but also for ecosystem services which help give stability to the UK landscape. It is in this context that Kew is embarking on this major new project which consists of the following areas:
A National tree seed collection
This project will build an ex situ collection of UK tree seeds that is both genetically comprehensive and comprises sufficient seeds to support research and conservation. A priority list of 50 trees and shrubs, ranked according to key criteria such as their conservation ratings, prevalence in the landscape, vulnerability to pests and diseases and their native status will initially be targeted for collection. A species will be ‘fully represented’ when it has been collected from every seed zone in which it occurs or from all genetically distinct populations where this is known. The collection will be curated by the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place and made available for research and conservation activities.
The project will promote the important role ex situ seed collections can play in meeting the challenges faced by forestry in the UK; for example, in responding to climate change and to the increased threats due to pests and diseases.
Some of the species in the priority 50, including oaks, cannot be stored in conventional seed banks as they do not survive drying during the seed banking process. Special storage options, such as cryopreservation, will be looked into as part of the project in order to overcome such constraints.
The collection aims to represent the genetic diversity of trees in the UK and so it is important that we understand the population genetics of species in the UK. To inform our seed collecting strategies we will be carrying out population genetics studies of some of our target species.
The collections will also be available to other research organisations working on solutions to the threats facing UK trees.
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