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Protecting the future of UK trees at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank

Kew researchers have been collecting seeds from locations across the UK as part of The UK National Tree Seed Project.

During September and October teams from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew were collecting seeds from locations across the UK as part of The UK National Tree Seed Project. The project launched in 2013 in partnership with players of People’s Postcode Lottery, and others, with the aim of securing genetically diverse collections of UK native trees and shrubs. 

Conwy, Wales

One team were in Conwy collecting seeds from spindle and wild privet. Both target species occur more frequently on soils rich in limestone or chalk, so the team selected sites in and around Llandudno, including a visit to the Great Orme. The team also recorded the GPS co-ordinates of individual trees to enable the rediscovery of the mother plants in the future. 

Collecting spindle near Bryn Pydew. UKNTSP Project Co-ordinator Clare Trivedi. Photo Kevin McGinn, National Botanic Gardens Wales.

Derbyshire and South Yorkshire

Another team travelled to Derbyshire and South Yorkshire to collect seeds from buckthorn, spindle, rowan and elder. The team visited sites in the limestone rich Derbyshire Dales to target spindle and buckthorn, both known to occur more frequently on this type of soil. To search for upland populations (occurring above 300m) of rowan and elder, the team then visited the Dark Peak west of Sheffield. 

Eastern Moors - Dark Peak. Kew fieldworkers from L-R: Bede West, Beverley Holt and Richard Boyne. Photo Ian Willey, RBG Kew.

After the collection, the seeds were transported to the Millennium Seed bank and were immediately removed from the covering fruit to prevent fermentation. They were then dried in a special temperature and humidity-controlled environment before being stored in the vault at –20°C. The seeds should remain viable for many decades and will be available to support research and on-the-ground conservation activity. 

Clare Trivedi, UK National Tree Seed Project Co-ordinator at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, says, “Building up our seed collections of the nation’s favourite and most important tree species is a vital step in combating the multiplying pests and diseases which threaten to alter our landscape dramatically.”

So far more than 12.5 million seeds have been collected for The UK National Tree Seed Project from over 8000 individual trees across the UK. The project has also received more than 1000 seed collections from partners across the country.