Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership – Lebanon
Population pressure, urbanisation and the aftermath of the civil war are the main threats to biodiversity in Lebanon. Collecting and storing seeds of plant species that are at risk provides insurance against the loss of these endangered plants in the wild.
Michiel van Slageren records seeds on an expedition to Lebanon (Image: Andrew McRobb)
119 plant species are counted to be endemic in Lebanon, in other words unique to this country. Many of these plant species are also considered to be rare or at risk of extinction.
Between 1996-2008, the Millennium Seed Bank partnership in Lebanon collected 844 plant species or 33% of the Lebanese Flora.Our partner in Lebanon
Plant life is under threat in Lebanon
The main priorities for the seed conservation efforts in Lebanon are the endemic species (plants found exclusively in Lebanon), threatened and economic species. These specifically include orchids and endemic species of Iris and Cylamen.
Plant species are seriously threatened by human activities in Lebanon. Plants provide valuable sources of food, medicine and fuel which human populations depend so it makes sense to safeguard plant species for future generations.
Environment and climate
Lebanon is in many ways a seed collector's paradise. About the size of Wales, it has an estimated 2,600 species, a flora twice the size of the United Kingdom's.
Most precious among these are over 300 endemics. The annual rainfall, varying from 150 mm per year in the arid east to over 1000 mm in the high mountains, explains a lot of this wealth, as does the variation in altitude between sea level and 2,700 metres.
Saving seeds for the future in Lebanon
The purpose of the project is to complement existing in situ conservation in Lebanon by supporting the collection, study and ex situ conservation of the Lebanese flora.
The country does have several national parks, mainly concentrating around the emblematic Cedrus libani or Lebanon Cedar forests. It lacked, however, any seed banking capacity to store seed samples of the many threatened or endemic wild species until Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership started collaborating with Lebanese partners back in 2000.
Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership (MSBP) and the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute (LARI) are working together to help save plant species in Lebanon. A Collection Guide for rare and endangered species of Lebanon was produced in 2005 by Kew's Geographical Information Systems Unit. This has helped identify the types of plant species that need protection: endemic, threatened and otherwise significant plant species. We aim to collect around 50 species each year.
Scientists from Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership are helping LARI staff develop and strengthen their seed collecting and conservation activities. A long-term seed storage facility in Lebanon is in the process of being established. The collection is, however, already available for research and possible species recovery activities from the materials that are duplicated at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, located at Wakehurst Place, West Sussex. (They will become available in due course at LARI).
Our partnership also aims to publicise the importance of seed banks to government and the broader community. Examples of this are the fact that conserved materials have been used in PhD research at local Lebanese universities, and that the joint Kew-LARI project features at LARI ‘open days’ for the wider public.
Discover more about our work in the Middle East...
Our team in Lebanon
- Michiel van Slageren, International Project Coordinator
- Joelle Breidi, seed bank curator and data manager