Image showing Collecting alder seed in Northern Ireland
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The UK National Tree Seed Project: 10 million seeds later

Kew scientist Clare Trivedi describes the journey of the UK National Tree Seed Project from creation to fruition of Phase 1: collecting 10 million seeds from 60 native species.
Date: 
30 May 2018
Blog team: 
Author: 
Clare Trivedi

Back in 2013 Kew launched the pioneering UK National Tree Seed Project (UKNTSP) with an ambition to collect and bank seed from the UK’s tree and shrub species – securing the genetic diversity of this important group of plants. Phase 1 of the project was successfully completed in April 2018 and has involved collecting and storing an incredible 10 million seeds from 60 native species.

The UK National Tree Seed Project was launched largely in response to the rapid increase in threats to UK trees and woodlands from pests and diseases such as ash dieback. The collections could also provide an important resource for scientists as they seek to understand and manage the impacts of climate change on UK woodlands. With one of the lowest rates of tree cover in Europe, UK woodlands are also under threat from land use changes and developments that may cause further fragmentation and loss of our ancient, semi-natural woodlands.


Image showing Collecting alder seed in Northern Ireland

Collecting alder seed in Northern Ireland

Image showing Seed collecting bag filled with hawthorn berries

Seed collecting bag filled with hawthorn berries

image showing the team Returning after a successful days collecting

Returning after a successful days collecting


The Project seeks to capture the range of genetic diversity found in the UK for each species by making a seed collection of each species from different bio-geographic zones around the UK in which it is considered native. For example, 60 separate collections of ash have been made from all over the UK, comprising seed from 674 separate trees. Each tree is geo-referenced and the seed from each individual tree is kept separately in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank. In total, Phase 1 has collected around 10 million seeds from approximately 7,620 trees from across the UK. These collections and the associated data will be available to scientists both at Kew and further afield via The Millennium Seed Bank List to help conduct studies in areas such as understanding the variation across a species including climatic sensitivity and resistance to pests and disease, which may prove vital as our environment and economy changes in the future. As banked seeds will survive for many decades they also provide a vital benchmark of current genetic diversity in our tree populations.


image showing An RBG Kew seed collecting team

An RBG Kew seed collecting team

image showing Sunrise over Dartmoor

Sunrise over Dartmoor

image showing that We also come across a wide variety of other wildlife on our seed collecting trips

We also come across a wide variety of other wildlife on our seed collecting trips


Collections have been made from all parts of the UK from the south coast of England, to the Scottish islands and from East Anglia across to Northern Ireland.  The project only succeeded thanks to the collaboration of a wide range of partner organisations and 280 individuals – both citizen scientists and professionals – with species expertise and knowledge of their local woodlands.   


image showing one of the first seed collections of ash being made for the project in 2013

One of the first seed collections of ash being made for the project in 2013

Image showing a UKNTSP tree tag indicating seed has been collected from this tree for the project

A UKNTSP tree tag indicating seed has been collected from this tree for the project

image showing Phase 2 is now under way, collecting seeds from creeping willow

Phase 2 is now under way, collecting seeds from creeping willow


We have now launched Phase 2 of the UKNTSP,  which involves two more years of collecting. We will focus on the remaining species, including the willow family which are known to be very difficult to collect. We will also complete and publish some exciting research that has been carried out using the collections, including experimental studies to estimate how long the seeds will survive in the seed bank and how best to store them. Two separate genetic studies have examined our success in capturing the genetic diversity of ash and yew across Great Britain, and so far the results look positive. Finally, watch out for the publication of a UK Strategy for Forest Genetic Resources. This is being developed by the project team, in collaboration with Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Forest Research, Woodland Trust and Future Trees Trust. It will help join up the role of seed bank collections with other activities for managing genetic resources from UK trees and shrubs. 

- Clare - 

The UK National Tree Seed Project has been made possible through the support of players of People’s Postcode Lottery, the Steel Foundation and the John Coates Charitable Trust.


Find out more

Meet the author

Find out more about Clare's work at Wakehurst.

Banking the UK’s seeds

The Programme comprises the UK Flora Project, The UK National Tree Seed Project and the UK Native Seed Hub. It works to maintain and enhance the UK repository for seeds and associated knowledge, to increase the quality, quantity and diversity of native plant material available for research, conservation and habitat restoration in the UK.

Kew's Science Collections Strategy

For the first time in Kew’s history, there is a formal strategy to set out a framework for managing, developing and providing greater access to the Science Collections over the next decade.