Millennium Seed Bank

A vital hub for scientific activity where you can learn more about our mission to conserve the world’s plant species.

Sunlight behind the Millennium Seed Bank

With around one in five plant species estimated to be threatened with extinction worldwide, seed banks are an effective means of preserving the world’s plants for the future.  

The Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) is a growing collection of seeds from around the world, aiming to provide a safety net for species at risk of extinction.  

Collecting seeds and preserving them ex situ (away from their natural habitat) offers an economical and effective way to save seeds and keep them for posterity. The rate of environmental change is happening so fast that it is not always possible to conserve plants within threatened habitats. In the future, if required, they can be germinated and reintroduced to the wild or used in scientific research.  

'A gold reserve...a place where this reserve currency, in this case life itself, is stored.' – HRH the Prince of Wales at the opening of the Millennium Seed Bank in 2000.   

 

A scientist in the Millennium Seed Bank vault
The Millennium Seed Bank safeguards wild plant diversity. ©RBG Kew

Our progress 

Britain is the first country in the world to have preserved its botanical heritage.  

In 2009, we achieved our aim of storing seeds from all the UK’s native plant species – apart from a handful of species that are either very rare or whose seeds are particularly difficult to store.  

The MSB is now the largest and most diverse wild plant species genetic resource in the world – the result of contributions from a global network working across more than 95 countries (the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership).  

Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst
Seeds stored in air-tight glass containers in -20°C freezers at the Millennium Seed Bank. Image © RBG Kew / Wolfgang Stuppy.

How we work 

MSB scientists work with partners in more than 95 countries around the world. Where possible, collections of seeds stored at Wakehurst are duplicated in seed banks in the country where they were collected. 

The team focuses on plants: 

  • from alpine, dryland, coastal and island ecosystems - these are most vulnerable to climate change 
  • from arid locations - these can tolerate being dried out and frozen for many years, whereas those from moist tropical areas are harder to store 
  • endemic to their location (not found anywhere else), economically important or endangered 

The work also helps nations meet international objectives, such as the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation and the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations Environment Programme. 

Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst
Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst ©RBG Kew

History and design of the building 

The Wellcome Trust Millennium Building replaced earlier cold stores of seeds held at Kew and Wakehurst. 

Three glass sections house laboratories, seed-preparation facilities and a public exhibition area. Under these lie a vast storage vault. 

The building provides the best possible conditions for seed storage, maximising energy conservation while remaining in harmony with the surrounding landscape 

On the parterre outside the MSB building, raised beds evoke eight threatened habitats of the British Isles. Seeds from these habitats are stored in the Millennium Seed Bank to preserve them for future generations.

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