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Millennium Seed Bank

When Prince Charles opened the Millennium Seed Bank in 2000 he described it as 'a gold reserve ... a place where this reserve currency, in this case life itself, is stored'.

Photo of the Millennium Seed Bank

Did you know?

  • Where possible, collections of seeds stored at Wakehurst are duplicated in seed banks in the country where they were collected.
  • Britain is the first country to have harvested and preserved its botanical heritage.

Opening times

10am - 5pm (1 March - 31 October)
10am - 3.30pm (1 November to end February) 

Structure

The current 5,500-square metre complex of buildings replaced earlier cold stores of seeds held at Kew and Wakehurst. Named the Wellcome Trust Millennium Building in acknowledgement of its primary funder, the building comprises three distinct glass sections. These house laboratories, seed-preparation facilities and a public exhibition area, under which lies a vast storage vault.

Aim

By storing the world's seeds, the MIllennium Seed Bank (MSB) aims to provide an insurance policy against the extinction of plants in the wild.

The MSB team initially aimed to store seeds from all of the UK’s native plant species. It has now achieved this, apart from a handful of species that are either very rare or whose seeds are particularly difficult to store. It also set the goal of banking seeds from 10% of the world’s flora by 2010. This was achieved in 2009 when it banked seeds from the 24,200th species, a pink wild banana (Musa itinerans) from China, which is an important staple food for wild Asian elephants. The aim for the next phase of the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP) is to conserve 25% of the world’s plant species by 2020.

MSB scientists work with partners in 50 countries around the world. They tend to collect seeds from alpine, dryland, coastal and island ecosystems, as these are most vulnerable to climate change. Plants from arid locations can tolerate being dried out and frozen for many years, whereas those from moist tropical areas are harder to store. The MSBP targets plants that are endemic to their location (not found anywhere else), economically important or endangered. Its work around the world is aimed at helping nations meet international objectives, such as the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation and the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations Environment Programme.

About the architecture

Kew's Millennium Seed Bank was designed by the London-based architects Stanton Willliams. An important aspect of the brief was that the design of the building should be in character with its location at Wakehurst Place. Stanton Williams created a low-level building with barrel-vaulted roofing, inspired by the surrounding landscape forms.

The main materials used for the external walls and roof were fair-faced concrete, sand blasted to expose the aggregate in specific areas, York stone, painted steel and structural glass panels.

The building has been designed to maximise energy conservation, while providing the best possible conditions for seed storage.

Things to look out for

  • Outside the Wellcome Trust Millennium Building, three giant symbolic seeds form the sculpture Inner compulsion, carved from Kilkenny limestone by Peter Randall-Page.
  • There are also exhibits of threatened British habitats planted in eight Millennium Seed Bank Parterres.
  • Inside the building, you can learn about the work of the MSB and its scientists in the permanent Millennium Seed Bank Exhibition.