Ardingley, UK – Hidden in explosion-proof freezers in the English countryside is a treasure trove of 40,000 wild plant seeds from around the world, many of which are threatened with extinction.
The world’s largest seed bank in the quiet countryside of south London is in a race against time as two out of five plant species are threatened with extinction, scientists say. It says. UK’s David Attenborough, an internationally renowned environmental guru, called the Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) “perhaps the most important conservation effort ever.”
“The aim is to conserve wild species through seeds to prevent their extinction in the long term,” explained Dr. John Dickey, senior research leader of the project. The 70-year-old has been with MSB since its founding in the late 1990s and since opening its current home in 2000 to celebrate the millennium.
A total of 2.5 billion seeds are stored at MSB in Wakehurst, 56km outside London, and at a branch of Kew Gardens Botanical Gardens in the capital. They come in all shapes, colors and sizes and from 190 countries he has 40,020 species.
Nearly 20 percent of the world’s flora is conserved in Wakehurst, with priority given to plants threatened by climate change and endemic plants found only in one geographical area. Plants with social functions, such as medical and economic uses, also have a role.
“It’s not rocket science”
“Plant species are endangered for a variety of reasons, but mostly due to land-use change and increasingly due to climate change,” said Dr. Dickey. “Some plants adapt.
Each week Wakehurst receives new seeds from all over the world and begins the process of saving them. The process is “based on technology already in use for crop species,” Dr. Dickey said. “It’s not rocket science. Dry it, freeze it. It’s just chemistry,” he added, explaining that once frozen, the seeds can be preserved for decades, perhaps even centuries.
Dr. Dickey’s team of about 20 researchers and various volunteers work in front of the public in a glass-fronted lab. Lucy Taylor is working on a study of silk tree seeds from Madagascar.
“Madagascar is a very interesting place for us. It has a unique flora because it was cut off from Africa. And there is a lot of pressure on land,” she said. Her one of her tasks is to separate the emptied seeds from the rest of the seeds.
“Many of them may be empty or infested with bugs or some kind of disease, so it’s important to clean them as much as possible,” Taylor explained. “We want to have the highest quality collection possible, but we also have limited space in bank vaults.”
Seeds are x-rayed for disease and each is given its own ID card with name, country of origin and date of arrival at the MSB. The seeds are then stored in glass jars, prepared by scientists like Arctic explorers, and transported to -20°C underground vaults made to withstand flooding, bombing and radiation.
The largest collection of seeds is from the orchid family. But there are also rare plants such as the world’s smallest water lily and Deschampsia Antarctica, also known as Antarctic hairgrass, he is one of his two flowering plants native to the frozen continent.
MSB is publicly funded and endowed and has partnerships in 90 countries. Some countries, such as Indonesia, refuse to share seeds with MSB, but keep seeds within their own territory and are responsible for their protection. However, others seem to be out of reach.
One of Dr. Dickey’s few regrets is his lack of ties to Iran. AFP
https://www.straitstimes.com/world/europe/the-noahs-ark-for-plants-beneath-the-english-countryside Noah’s Ark for Plants Beneath the English Countryside