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A seed bank for Thailand

Conservation scientist Kate Hardwick reveals how a partnership between Thailand and Kew is helping protect key species.
8 February 2018
Blog team: 
Kate Hardwick

Rich biodiversity

Thailand is home to an impressive range of landscapes, each with its own rich flora and fauna. These include mountainous highlands, a fertile central plain, rolling hills, mangroves and rain forest.

Much work has been done to create protected areas for wildlife and to invest in ecotourism. Despite this, Thailand's rich biodiversity remains under threat from climate change, illegal logging and wildfires.

Burretiodendron esquirolii

This Thai tree (Burretiodendron esquirolii) is under threat from habitat loss and is listed as Vulnerable.

Fieldwork in Thailand (Image: Ruth Clark)

Rocky terrain can be a challenge when plant-hunting in Thailand.

Buxus sirindhorniana is endemic to Thailand

The newly described Buxus sirindhorniana is found only in Thailand.

A national seed bank

When speaking at the Flora of Thailand conference at Kew in 2014, HRH Princess Sirindhorn expressed her wish for a national seed bank for Thailand.

In order to make this vision a reality, a ten-year Memorandum of Collaboration was signed by Thailand (the Department of National Parks, Wildlife & Plant Conservation) and RBG Kew in 2015.

The aim of this was not only to set up a national seed bank, but also to train local botanists. Working as partners, we set out to study Thai plant diversity, collect seeds, and share data.

The seeds will be safeguarded at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank until the Thai seed bank becomes available.

Working with partners to collect seeds in Thailand

Working with partners to collect seeds in Thailand.

Collecting seeds from tall trees in Thailand

Using a 17m carbon pole to collect seeds from tall trees.

HRH Princess Sirindhorn at the 2014 Flora of Thailand Conference at Kew

HRH Princess Sirindhorn at the 2014 Flora of Thailand Conference at Kew.

Why bank seeds?

Banking seeds acts as an insurance policy, meaning seeds will be available for many decades (or even centuries) to come. In this way, we are ensuring they are available for future generations.

Seed banks also provide easy access to seeds for essential research and re-introduction projects.

Setting up a seed bank generates skills, knowledge and data to support restoration projects and the sustainable use of plants.

Challenges and successes

Plant hunting in Thailand throws up many challenges, like travelling across rocky terrain, finding ways to collect seeds from incredibly tall trees, and ensuring that the plants we are looking for are in fruit at the time we are there.

We've seen many successes, including the largest ever shipment of seeds to the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst - a hefty 75kg! Our team has collected seeds from priority species - including those that are endangered, those of value to the local economy, and those that are only found in Thailand (endemic).

Seed bank training courses have been attended by many Thai collaborators, who will now go on to share the skills they have learnt with their colleagues.

This project proves how partners can work together to protect Thailand's biodiversity, now and in the future.