Microscope Slide Collection
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Press release: Kew launches 10-year plan to share its collections and help secure future of the planet

Release date: 
14 March 2018

Science Collections Strategy

Kew is today launching its first strategy aimed at managing the future use of its vast and unparalleled collections of plants and fungi dating back 170 years. The 10-year Kew Science Collections Strategy includes what collections are currently available, and which represent critical research priorities. It also confirms how the collections need to be managed and how to increase global access to them.

Kew’s vast scientific collections of plants and fungi from across the globe cover an estimated 95% of vascular plant genera and 60% of fungal genera and are fundamental to describing and understanding plant and fungal life on Earth. They lie at the heart of the organisation and are critical to helping to find solutions to some of the greatest challenges faced by humanity as they underpin research into climate change, food security and disease.

Prof. Kathy Willis, Director of Science, RBG Kew says:

“Over the past 170 years, the decision as to what to collect and from where has been largely driven by serendipity and political trends. This Science Collections Strategy, the first of its kind in Kew’s history, provides us with the direction and ambition for everyone who works on Kew’s global collections so we can now detail what we are going to collect, from where and how we will manage them going forwards in order to make our collections even more accessible to researchers and visitors across the globe. By doing this we hope to enhance Kew’s role as a global resource in plant and fungal knowledge – helping to find solutions to some of humanity’s greatest challenges including food security, climate change and plant diseases.”

Among Kew’s aims by 2028 are to have:

  • digitised Kew's 8.5 million science collections.
  • made all specimen data accessible via online portals.
  • stored seed from all plant genera, 50% of all priority species of crop wild relatives and 60% of tree species that have bankable seeds, in the Millennium Seed Bank or banked by in-country partners.
  • opened a ‘Kew Cryosphere’ storage facility at the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst, providing greatly extended cryogenic storage and training facilities and the ability to bank key desiccation-intolerant tropical and temperate tree species.
  • increased representation of plant and fungal species from target areas in Sub-Saharan Africa, Central and South America and South-East Asia, particularly endemic, threatened, and ecologically or economically important species.
  • a global reference collection of wood specimens for tree genera threatened by international trade.
  • improved infrastructure for the collection, curation, and storage of genomic and transcriptomic data.
  • run crowdsourcing initiatives to increase data capture, analysis, and citizen scientist engagement with all collections.

Kew’s science collections to date comprise:

  • the Herbarium – 7 million pressed plant specimens
  • the Spirit Collection – 76,000 specimens preserved in spirit
  • the Fungarium – 1.25 million specimens of dried fungi & over 1,000 fungal cultures in liquid nitrogen
  • the Economic Botany Collection – 100,000 samples documenting use of plants by humans
  • the Seed Collection at the Millennium Seed Bank – 86,000 collections & over 2 billion seeds
  • the DNA and Tissue Bank – 48,000 samples of plant genomic DNA & 10,000 tissue samples
  • the Microscope Slide Collection – 150,000 microscope slides of plant and fungal anatomy
  • the In Vitro Collection – 6,000 living plants and fungi cultures in jars of agar

The primary audiences for the strategy will be Kew and other UK scientists, the global community of researchers in plant and fungal science, governments and policy-makers looking for data to inform policies use as well as non-governmental organisations in conservation and sustainable development.


For more information contact pr@kew.org or call + 44208 332 5605

Notes to editors

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding collections as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a major international and a top London visitor attraction. Kew’s 132 hectares of landscaped gardens, and Kew’s country estate, Wakehurst, attract over 1.5 million visits every year. Kew was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2009. Wakehurst is home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. Kew receives just under half of its funding from Government through the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and research councils. Further funding needed to support Kew’s vital work comes from donors, membership and commercial activity including ticket sales.

Wakehurst in Ardingly, West Sussex, is one of the most beautiful and significant botanic gardens in the country. It is home to Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, which houses and protects seed from the world’s most substantial and diverse collection of threatened and useful wild plants, and leads the MSB Partnership, a crucially important global science based conservation programme which is the largest of its kind in the world. Since 1965, RBG Kew has transformed the private garden and estate at Wakehurst into a contemporary botanic garden, where ornamental plantings and exotic tree and shrub collections of international importance sit within native woodland. Wakehurst’s natural assets associated with its countryside location renders it complementary to Kew’s West London site, with different growing conditions, and a real emphasis on wild plant collections. Coupled with the Millennium Seed Bank, Wakehurst offers an inspiring, immersive, and educational day out for the whole family, and serves as a vital contribution to UK and global plant conservation.