RBG Kew Banks Billionth Seed
Release date: 20 October 2018
The UK’s Millennium Seed Bank, part of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has collected its billionth seed for safekeeping and conservation.
The seed will be presented to the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, on 26 April, ahead of an official banking ceremony at the Millennium Seed Bank on 22 May.
The Millennium Seed Bank Project (MSBP) is widely regarded as one of the most ambitious conservation projects in the world. Conceived after the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, the MSBP is based on the three central tenets of the Convention on Biological Diversity: conservation, sustainable use and equitable sharing of benefits. Today, the MSBP holds the largest wild seed collection in the world and works with over 100 partner organisations in 50 countries forming a global network to provide an effective, low-cost insurance against the loss of species in their natural environments.
The Millennium Seed Bank currently contains the seeds of more than 18,000 wild plant species from 126 countries, including 88% of the total UK flora, with duplicate collections in partner seed banks world wide. By 2010, 10% of the world’s wild flowering plant species (totalling 30,000 species) will be banked, with priority given to those that are endangered, endemic or of current local use or potential economic use. The Millennium Seed Bank has the capacity to store seeds from up to half of the world’s wild plant species, and each one of these seeds has the potential to one day become a plant.
The billionth seed is from an African bamboo, Oxytenanthera abyssinica, and was collected in Mali, West Africa by the MSBP partner institution in Mali, the Institut d’Economie Rurale. Within Mali, and other sub-Saharan African countries, this bamboo is used for house construction, furniture, basket and wine making. The bamboo is valuable to local people but over-harvesting has led to the species becoming endangered in Mali. The species is a priority for conservation for a number of reasons: its natural habitat is under increasing threat, it is a very useful plant, and it sets seed only once every seven years.
Like many bamboo species, the flowering and fruiting of Oxytenanthera abyssinica is synchronised across the region, so that all the plants flower, fruit and then die back within a single year. This phenomenon has led to the superstition in Mali that the fruiting of the bamboo is a bad omen for kings, conquerors and chiefs. It last seeded in 2006. The Millennium Seed Bank now holds several thousand seeds from this species, which will be used for conservation research both at the Millennium Seed Bank and in Mali.
The Millennium Seed Bank is often described as a ‘Noah’s Ark for plants’. Several thousand seeds are banked for every species collected and the collection is heavily used. Every species collection is germination tested to ensure that the seeds can be turned into plants. This germination information, as well as the seeds themselves, is then available to agriculturists, horticulturists, foresters and others who wish to use it for improving human wellbeing. Skills, knowledge and data from seed banks support wider plant conservation activities including those working to alleviate the anticipated impact of habitat loss and climate change. As well as being used for research purposes, seeds are also used for species reintroduction and habitat restoration projects around the world.
Over the past 5 years, over 3,000 seed collections have been used to support research in the key sustainability areas of water, environment, health, agriculture and biodiversity. The MSBP team is heavily involved with capacity building; seed conservation facilities have been installed in 10 African countries and 1,200 people worldwide have been trained in applied seed conservation techniques. With Defra and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the MSBP is currently working with agricultural seed banks in 29 sub-Saharan countries to develop methodologies that will enable the sustained use of c. 220 plant species that are important to local communities.
The Millennium Seed Bank’s visitor centre extends educational outreach and has given hundreds of thousands of the visiting public, including school groups, an opportunity to learn more the project and the importance of conservation.
Paul Smith, Head of the Millennium Seed Bank, said: ‘’Everyone in the world depends on nature and ecosystem services such as clean air and water to provide the conditions for a decent, healthy and secure life. Plant diversity is a vital part of the system upon which we depend. The need for the kind of insurance policy the Millennium Seed Bank provides has never been greater.”
Despite its achievements and enormous potential for future conservation, the Millennium Seed Bank Project has no funding post 2010. Given funding, the Millennium Seed Bank Project, working with its international partners, aims to have collected and banked seed from 25% of the world’s plant species by 2020.
Information and images
Please contact Anna Quenby, Catherine Owen or Oliver Basciano in the RBG, Kew Press Office. Telephone 020 8332 5607. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please visit www.kew.org/msbp for further information about the Millennium Seed Bank Project.
Images will be available at www.kew.org/press/images/wakehurst.
Please contact the press office for username and password to download high resolution images.
Visitor information: www.kew.org/visitor/aboutwp / 01444 894000.
Notes to editors
The Millennium Seed Bank is the largest wild plant seed bank in the world, owned and managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and located at Wakehurst Place, RBG Kew’s site in West Sussex. The Millennium Seed Bank Project is one of the most ambitious conservation projects in the world. Conceived after the first Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, the Millennium Seed Bank Project was based on the three central tenets of the Convention on Biological Diversity: conservation, sustainable use and equitable sharing of benefits. By 2010, RBG Kew and its partners will have collected and conserved seed from 10% of the world’s wild flowering plant species (c.30,000 species). The Millennium Seed Bank has the capacity to store up to half the world’s wild flowering plant species and already holds 88% of the UK’s flora, including more than 75% of its threatened plant species. Species for collection and conservation are prioritised by Kew’s partners, all are endangered, rare and of potential economic value. The Millennium Seed Bank Project has been made possible with generous funding from the Millennium Commission, the Wellcome Trust and Orange plc and other donors. The Millennium Seed Bank has no secured funding beyond 2010. For further information please visit www.kew.org/msbp.
MSBP Targets and Funding
The 2020 target is 75,000 species, a quarter of the wild plant species in the world.
The 2010 target is 30,000 species, with a further 45,000 species to be collected by 2020.
£100 million is needed to fund the project from 2010 to 2020.
This equates to £2,000 per species.
The Millennium Seed Bank has no secured funding beyond 2010.
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding living collection of plants and world-class herbarium 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 visitor attraction and its 132 hectares of landscaped gardens attract over one million visitors per year. Kew was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and represents over 250 years of historical landscape.