Native seed industry research
Research commissioned by Kew into the supply of British native seed has revealed a number of issues with the potential to impact on the creation of a coherent and resilient ecological network in the UK. A summary of the research findings is presented below.
Summary of UK Native seed hub initiative rationale
The report this document summarises was commissioned by RBG Kew and compiled by Chris Blandford Associates to assist RBG Kew in the planning of its UK Native Seed Hub project. Its main findings, provided in November 2011, are openly offered without liability to any interested party.
By publishing this summary, RBG Kew is not claiming its findings accurately represent the UK native seed industry in terms of native seed value or volume, nor does it necessarily agree with its reflective statements, recommendations and impressions of the UK native seed industry, which are based upon feedback from UK native seed producers, collectors and wholesalers.
RBG Kew takes no liability for the use of the data, comments and reflective statements offered in this report.
The 2010 Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan set a new global vision and direction for biodiversity policy. In the UK, the first White Paper on the Natural Environment in England for over 20 years was issued by Defra in 2011 (The Natural Choice: Securing the Value of Nature), building on the findings of the National Ecosystem Assessment and the Lawton Report (Making Space for Nature).
In support of the White Paper, the Government recently published a new England Biodiversity Strategy (Biodiversity 2020: A Strategy for England’s Wildlife and Ecosystem Services).
There is at present limited regulation of UK native wildflower seeds unlike that of the agricultural seed sector. Regulation is much stronger in the tree and shrub sector. The Forest Reproductive Material (Great Britain) Regulations 2002 came into force on 1st January 2003.
The Wildlife and Countryside Act implements the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention) in Great Britain. The Act contains measures for preventing the establishment of non-native species and makes it an offence to pick, uproot, destroy or sell any wild plants listed in Schedule 8 (unless a license is granted). Key recent amendments to the Act include the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011, which makes it an offence to plant or cause to grow in the wild any plant outwith its native range and the Wildlife and Natural Environment Act (Northern Ireland) 2011, which received Royal Assent on 29th March 2011, also makes it an offence to pick, uproot or destroy seeds and spores of protected wild plants as well as the wild plants themselves.
2.0 POTENTIAL MARKET SIZE AND GROWTH
Compared to, say, the agricultural seed market, the UK native seed market is relatively unsophisticated and immature. Current demand is limited in both quantitative and qualitative terms. However with present policy trends at all levels of Government (see above), it is predicted to grow. Market research indicated that the overall UK native seed market was estimated to be worth 70-120t in weight, and £3m - £6m in value in 2011 – recent feedback from the industry suggests this may be an over-estimation.
The tree and shrub sector is estimated to comprise approximately 15-35% of the overall market. 75-90% is dominated by species rich grassland. Heathland and cornfield annuals are the next two largest segments, with heathland’s relatively high market price giving it a higher share of market value (2-25%) than of market weight (0-10%). Coastal habitats, wetland vegetation and woodland field layer comprise the remainder of the market, each contributing 0-5% share.
Overall, research carried out in 2011 indicated that the market is anticipated to grow to 120-240t by 2019/2020, and to be worth £6-17m in value. Again, recent feedback suggests this may be an over-estimation.
3.0 MARKET STRUCTURE
The UK native wildflower seed market comprises seven broad types of players:
• Seed collectors/providers – who harvest seed from semi-natural populations, and sell it on to primary producers or end customers without any bulking up or multiplication.
• Primary producers – who harvest seed from semi-natural populations and then bulk up this founder collection on their site.
• Seed merchants – who purchase seed from primary producers and from other seed merchants, and sell it to retail market outlets and end customers.
• Retail market outlets – who sell seeds to the retail market subset of end customers.
• End customers – who are the ultimate purchasers of the seed, whether through retail outlets (such as the Garden Centre Group), seed merchants, primary producers or seed collectors/providers.
• Specifiers – who develop seed specification for end users.
• Conservation/restoration organisations - who exert influence on different parts of the market depending on their area of expertise and network, including through legislation, publication of guidance, and grant schemes e.g. Flora Locale, the Grasslands Trust, Buglife and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The UK native tree and shrub seed market has many similarities with the UK native wildflower seed market, but is slightly less complex. It comprises five broad types of players, and appears to be much more concentrated among a smaller number of players:
• Seed collectors/providers – relatively speaking, there appears to be a number of players who operate as seed collectors/providers;
• Seed merchants – there do not appear to be many players in this part of the market;
• End customers – these include tree nurseries, who buy in seed to grow into seedlings, saplings or trees that they sell, although tree nurseries typically harvest seed from their own trees;
• Specifiers – who also include the Forestry Commission and Woodland Trust; and
• Conservation/restoration organisations.
Overall, there are broadly 11 elements in the production and distribution chain for UK native seeds. The different players in the market engage in different elements of the chain depending in part on whether they are seed collectors/providers, primary producers or seed merchants.
4.0 KEY ISSUES AND GAPS IN THE MARKET
Availability and supply of seeds:
• There are a number of seed species that are very desirable in a mix and that contribute to overall biodiversity aims, but that are not currently readily available in the market.
• Seeds are collected from a relatively narrow geographic range of sites, resulting in a limited offer of local origin seeds.
• Supply is potentially not sufficient to meet latent demand in the market.
Quality of available seeds:
• There are concerns that some of the seeds being marketed as UK native are grown in the UK rather than actually of UK native origin.
• Concerns have also been raised about the quality of seeds available in the market, and their associated emergence rates.
• There are sub-optimal cleaning, drying and storage conditions among some players in the market, caused by mixed awareness of best practice standards.
Regulation, standards of practice and monitoring:
• There is currently limited formal regulation of UK native wildflower species, except when used as fodder stock.
• At present, the key players in the UK native seed market have limited influence on broad policy and regulatory developments that impact the market.
• Flora Locale operate a voluntary code of conduct for the commercial seed industry, but this does not appear to be fully enforced at present.
• For development and infrastructure projects in particular, there can sometimes be a disconnect between the seeds specified and those actually planted, leading to substitution of imported seeds or lower specification/cheaper seeds.
Awareness and demand:
• The provision of native seeds can often be seen as a relatively low priority in large scale and high value development and infrastructure projects.
• There are mixed levels of awareness among some contractors of the lead times and costs associated with delivering the required seed specification and quantities.
• There are mixed levels of awareness among some landowners or design professionals of the value and importance of specifying native origin.
• There are mixed levels of awareness among some market participants that native wildflower species are an unregulated segment of the overall seed market.
• There is growing, but still limited retail consumer demand around seeds that contribute to biodiversity.
Understanding and research:
• There is insufficient understanding of the impact of imported seeds on local habitats.
• There is insufficient understanding of the impact of climate change.
• Some stakeholders have identified issues around seed germination and establishment rather than seed viability.
These issues/gaps have been prioritised in two ways, the first being the relative importance of such opportunities to UK nature conservation and the second being their alignment with existing Royal Botanic Garden (RBG) Kew strengths and assets.
5.0 OVERALL LONG TERM VISION
The UK Native Seed Hub initiative will use the seed collections, scientific facilities, seed technology, horticultural expertise, and authoritative brand of RBG Kew and its Millennium Seed Bank to actively contribute to developing coherent, resilient ecological networks and to enhancing biodiversity in the UK, in line with the aspirations set out in the Government’s Natural Environment White Paper (2011).
The UK Native Seed Hub is ultimately a not for profit initiative, although it will seek to operate on a cost-recovery basis. In support of this, the initiative will charge for some of its services, and will also extend provision of its services to other related sectors.
6.0 OFFER AND ASSOCIATED PRODUCTS/SERVICES
The core offer of the UK Native Seed Hub is comprised of the provision of seed, provision of training and technical advice, and provision of other facilities/services. This is supported by tailored research activities, activities focused on regulation/standards of practice, and awareness and demand building.
Seed provision considerations:
• Production of founder stocks for species currently missing from existing commercial mixes.
• Production of founder stocks for rare species and Schedule 8 species.
• Production of founder stocks for local or multi origin seeds.
• Production of high quality founder stocks for species that primary producers currently harvest from the wild.
• Provision of tailored seed offers for the retail market – where RBG Kew would design, brand and viability test the offer, and primary producers would grow seeds in commercial quantities under contract or license.
Provision of training and technical advice:
• Seed viability training and technical advice to primary producers, seed collectors/providers and seed merchants.
• Seed cleaning and storage needs training and technical advice to primary producers, seed collectors/providers and seed merchants.
• Horticultural training and technical advice (including protocols) on how to maximise conversion from seedlings to plants, and how to achieve optimal plant performance.
Provision of other facilities/services:
• Provision of seed viability testing service for primary producers, seed merchants and/or end users. RBG Kew tested seeds to potentially be appropriately kite marked or branded.
• Use of high quality MSB cleaning and storage facilities by primary producers, seed merchants and/or end users.
• Provision of consultancy advice (particularly for exemplar projects) on species currently growing in the area, mix of species that should be planted, how best to ensure good planting rates, and where to source seeds.
• Undertake research into seed establishment and techniques for habitat creation.
• Undertake research into understanding the impact of climate change.
Regulation and standards of practice:
• Government lobbying to increase formal regulation/monitoring of the UK native wildflower market.
• Collaboration with Flora Locale and key market players to establish a better Code of Practice. Collaboration could also involve the development of an informal trade association.
Awareness building and demand development:
• Awareness building and demand development among end users and specifiers.
• Awareness building and demand development among retail market/private individuals.
7.0 HABITAT TYPES
Overall, greatest emphasis is proposed for seeds associated with species rich grassland. Some emphasis should also be given to seeds associated with woodland field layer. Seeds associated with trees/shrubs and with coastal habitats have been given the lowest priority ranking.
Keep up to date with events and news from Kew