An amazing 13 million seeds from over 70 species of the UK’s native trees and shrubs have now been collected and banked at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank in Sussex as part of the pioneering UK National Tree Seed Project, launched in 2013 by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew with funding from players of People’s Postcode Lottery (PPL).
The project, which ended last month, was set up in response to the challenges facing UK woodlands including temperature changes, extreme weather events and increasing numbers of pests and diseases. Over the past seven years, with the support of more than 400 volunteers and staff from 30 partner organisations, the UK National Tree Seed Project has made an extensive and unique collection of the majority of the UK’s native trees and shrubs.
Seeds have been collected from right across the UK, from Cornwall to the Outer Hebrides; from sea level up to 600 metres above sea level. The 13 million seeds are now safely stored in the sub-zero underground vaults of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank for long-term conservation. It is hoped these time traveller seeds will offer future possibilities for both research and conservation and can be used to regenerate woodlands or reintroduce new trees in years to come.
Native trees in the collection include popular favourites such as ash, juniper, alder, birch, yew and willow. All of these trees, whilst being a visual part of the British landscape, also underpin the country’s wider plant and animal diversity, as well as providing vital ecosystem services to the environment such as flood prevention and carbon capture. UK woodland trees are also vital to woodland industry and economy as well as tourism and recreation.
These seeds and the data collected alongside them provide a unique resource for science and conservation, potentially helping scientists to understand and respond to threats such as new pests and diseases, climate change, and woodland loss. As banked seeds may live for many decades they also provide a vital benchmark of current genetic diversity in our UK tree populations.
Ian Willey, Fieldwork Officer at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, says:
“As we’ve seen with ash dieback, pests and pathogens can cause a huge change to our woodlands and the many plants and animals they support. Building up this seed collection of some of the nation’s most important tree species is a vital step in combating the challenges facing our native trees. We can’t thank our volunteers, partners and players of People’s Postcode Lottery enough for their support in creating this incredibly important collection to help ensure the future of our woodlands.”
The Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) marks its 20th anniversary this year and is one of the UK’s key conservation projects. The MSB is the largest wild plant seed bank in the world and a global resource for the conservation of plants. Kew and partners from over 100 countries have gathered more than two billion seeds from the world’s rarest and most important species, playing a vital role in keeping them safe. Frozen in time, the seeds are stored in air-tight containers in -20°C vaults. Once banked, the species is conserved even if it becomes extinct in the wild and can be used for research and propagation projects by scientists.
Header image: British native woodland in the spring: Loder Valley Reserve in Kew’s wild botanic garden Wakehurst in Sussex. Credit: Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.