Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership – United Kingdom
People do not usually think of the UK flora as being endangered but with ever-increasing threats from more intensive agriculture, urbanisation, road building, pollution and climate change, it has been estimated that over 300 UK species are threatened with extinction from the UK countryside.
Collecting seeds from aquatic plants in the UK (Image: Andrew McRobb, RBG Kew)
The Pasqueflower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) is one such endangered plant. This early-flowering beauty, once widespread across much of the English limestone and chalk downland, has seen a significant decline in numbers when many grasslands were ploughed up pre-1950. This inevitable decline has continued due to the trends away from the more traditional grazing regimes that once sustained suitable habitat. Recent studies by Walker and Pinches (2012) have shown that this rather iconic member of our flora is now more or less confined to some 19 sites across the southern half of England and 5 of these populations are continuing to decline.
Through its scientific and technical expertise, RBG Kew is exploring ways to improve the plight of this vulnerable species. For example, seed stocks of the Pasqueflower are being produced on our UK Native Seed Hub beds. These seeds are being used by Kew’s scientists who are undertaking trials to improve seedling recruitment. We will soon be able to pinpoint the exact ecological conditions required for establishing successful populations. Using material from wild and cultivated stock we will utilize our genetic fingerprinting expertise to define exactly which individuals should go where. This vital work will ensure that we can help to sustain and enhance existing populations and inform any proposed reintroductions.
Seed Conservation for the UK’s Future
UK Flora Programme (1997-2000).
In order to “practice what we preach” it was appropriate to tackle the conservation of our own flora before undertaking projects overseas. The first phase of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Project 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 Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) has found that, perhaps surprisingly, the majority of such species are easily stored under standard seed bank conditions.
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. Some of the remaining species 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. This is not only from species not yet collected and conserved, but also species for which we need more comprehensive collections, either due to low seed numbers or insufficient geographical representation. Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank is extremely grateful to those individuals who are giving up their time to assist with this vital work.Ref: (Walker, K and Pinches, C, 2012. Too Steep for the Plough? The history of the Pasqueflower in Britain. British Wildlife, 23 (4) 241-249.)
Discover more about our work across Europe...
- Stephanie Miles, UK Collections Coordinator
Our partners in the UK
- Wildlife Trusts
- Natural England
- Scottish Natural Heritage
- Countryside Council for Wales
- National Trust
- Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh
- Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI)
Plant stories from the UK
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