Millennium Seed Bank Project (Partnership): key achievements 2006 - 2011
The Millennium Seed Bank Project (now called the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership) is a major international seed banking initiative with the defined purpose: ‘To combat potentially catastrophic threats to human wellbeing by safeguarding wild plant diversity and enabling its sustainable utilization through global partnership’.
From 1 July 2006 to 31 December 2009, this team managed the Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) Project. This 14-year, £73m project, involving over 120 organisations in 54 countries, was delivered on time and within budget. The UK costs over the review period were £23.7m.
The major outputs of the Project were:
- (species conservation): Seeds from 24,200 species conserved in the MSB and partner seed banks by 2010 (15,134 species were conserved over the review period).
- (seed quality): All collections were duplicated in partner institutions’ seed banks; 47% of collections for which names were confirmed, and where information was available, were endemic, threatened or of known utilitarian value; >50% of seed collections banked have achieved >75% germinability; >85% of collections are held to international standards at MSB and in partners’ seed banks; all distribution and use of MSBP collections from the MSB are managed in compliance with partnership agreements and, where allowed, availability is made known through RBG Kew Seed List; 33% of MSBP collections were made available for use within 2 years of collection.
- (research): 19 new and improved seed conservation methodologies were developed, published and validated over the review period. From 2000 - 2009, the Seed Conservation Department’s (SCD) research section (currently eith post-docs) published c. 150 ISI-listed papers (104 since 2006 in 39 journals), out of about 182 for the department as a whole. Citations across the 150 papers = 1275; and for the whole of SCD = 1674. The cumulative h-index for papers published is 21 since 2000. The proportion of CIF>2 papers has increased dramatically over the last five years, averaging about 25% of papers per annum now.
- (training and capacity building): training, advice and information, and appropriate equipment and supplies were provided to > 1,500 individuals amongst partners, collaborators and the wider scientific community. More than 14,585 people-days of education and training were provided to students and conservation practitioners during the review period. 33 PhD students, mostly from overseas, were supported. The ‘difficult’ seeds project trained 60 participants from 48 institutes in 38 African countries, and produced on-line seed biology information for 160 ‘difficult’ species, most of them food plants. Technical support and enhanced facilities were provided to partners and collaborators, including advice on the design and construction of the Germplasm Bank of Wild Species, Kunming, and the Tasmanian Seed Conservation Centre. Digital hygrometers to measure seed moisture status and aid seed handling decisions were provided to all MSBP partners. Fifteen other new and improved seed conservation methods were adopted by partners, collaborators and wider scientific community over the review period. Thirteen technical information sheets providing advice on various aspects of collecting and storing seeds were published and made available on-line(http://www.kew.org/science-research-data/kew-in-depth/msbp/publications-data-resources/technical-resources/technical-information-sheets/index.htm)and 83,730 new records were added to the Seed Information Database over the review period.
- (public awareness). On April 26th 2007, representative staff from the MSB visited no. 11 Downing Street, where Gordon Brown celebrated the banking of the MSBP’s one billionth seed – a bamboo from Mali in West Africa. The media coverage generated the equivalent of about £600k of advertising revenue. The MSB played a central role in the Great Plant Hunt Project and seed bank kits were distributed to every UK primary school. The Millennium Seed Bank Exhibition, entitled ‘Banking on Life’ in 2009 was held in the Nash Conservatory and was the first significant presence of the MSBP on the Kew site. Additionally, the two books by Wolfgang Stuppy and the artist Rob Kesseler on seeds and fruits have received considerable press attention. The success of the project (and in particular achievement of the 24,200 species target) was marked in October 2009 by a celebratory dinner at Wakehurst Place hosted by Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for the Environment. The MSBP was at the centre of the award-winning British Seed Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo in 2010 and visited by 7 million people.
The issues raised by the last Science review, many of which related to the future of the Millennium Seed Bank, have or are being addressed. For instance, the value of the MSB in relation to climate change and poverty alleviation as well as plant diversity are at the centre of MSB-2 and successes publicised such as the partnership with FAO on solving seed problems in 38 sub-Saharan African countries. The funding security recommendation has been addressed in the medium term with the securing of £3m per annum for four years from Defra and there has been close collaboration with the Foundation in raising the remaining funding. A major success has been the funding (by the Norwegian Government) of a $50m crop wild relatives project jointly led by the Global Crop Diversity Trust and MSBP. As will be apparent from the above, RBG Kew has tackled two of the 2009 Defra Review recommendations, namely with respect to developing phase 2 of the Project and securing Government funding. The impact of the MSBP at Wakehurst Place is being addressed through the Wakehurst Place Landscape Masterplan.
Considerable consultation took place within RBG Kew and our partners on the development of the next phase of the MSB programme. Perhaps the greatest achievement since the last review has been in consolidating the MSB Partnership. This network based on mutual trust and shared technical expertise has built a firm foundation for the programme of work leading up to 2020. This network has allowed exciting new projects such as Project-MGU - the Useful Plants Project).
The MSBP Team activity strongly supports Breathing Planet Programme strategies 4, 5 and with the UK Native Seed Hub additionally strategy 6.
Conferences and workshops
In 2008, Dr Ilse Kranner gave the Mike Black Lecture at the International Society for Seed Science’s triennial congress in Poland. The topic covered, ‘The meaning of stress’, was published in 2010 as a Tansley Review in New Phytologist. In 2008, Hugh Pritchard delivered the opening address of the ‘Seeds for the Future’ meeting of the Agronomy Society and Grassland Association, New Zealand. In 2007-9, Hugh Pritchard was an invited contributor to project and policy discussions in Ghana, USA and Chile for the Royal Society, the NSF and UNIDO, respectively. In 2010, Hugh Pritchard gave an invited lecture on ex situ conservation to the IUFRO seed congress in Taiwan. On average, staff in the Team deliver about three invited lectures per annum each (fully funded by the organisers).
Team members have regularly served on organising committees of international congresses, for example: triennial meetings for the International Seed Testing Association (Brazil, 2007; Germany, 2010) and the International Society for Seed Science (Poland, 2008; Brazil, 2011), annual meetings in Europe of the Society for Low Temperature Biology (2008-11); Kew’s 250th Anniversary Science Conference (2009).
Specialist scientific workshops have been delivered in-country to about 500 people: four on ‘seed biology,’ in Brazil, two on ‘seed and fruit morphology,’ in the Netherlands and Brazil, and three on ‘in vitro conservation and cryopreservation,’ in India. Darwin Initiative project workshops have been led in Ghana (2006), Ecuador (2007), Chengdu (2007) and Costa Rica (2010). EU COST Action project workshops have been staged at the MSB on cryopreservation (2009) and halophytes (2011).
International and National Policies
Internationally, Team activities align with multilateral frameworks such as the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, particularly targets 8, 9, 14, 15 and 16, but also 2, 3, 4, 6, 11, 13; there is also clear contributions to the Millennium Development Goals 7.
Nationally, there is strong matching with the UK Government and Defra’s strategic objectives. Specifically:
Ecosystem Based Adaptation (EBA) under International and National policies. The CBD CoP 10 decision on Climate Change and Biodiversity defined EBA as including “sustainable management, conservation and restoration of ecosystems, as part of an overall adaptation strategy that takes into account the multiple social, economic and cultural co-benefits for local communities’. EBA is also being discussed under the UNFCCC (perhaps more so than at the CBD). Our restoration and sustainable use activities are particularly relevant to EBA.
The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture: The MSBP supports the International Treaty by supplying seed material of crop wild relatives and other species useful in crop research to public sector research institutions around the world.
Reduced Emissions through avoided Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+): We are currently in discussion with the FAO, World Bank, the World Agroforestry Centre, Defra, DfID and others about mobilising our network of forestry seed bank partners in afforestation activities, utilising, well adapted, low input, indigenous species in agroforestry, plantations and catchment restoration. We are also leading part of the FAO State of the World’s Forest Genetic Resources Review which will be published in 2013.
Science Team Leader: Paul Smith
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