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Global Tree Seed Bank Programme

A seed collector kneeling collecting seed from a shrub overlooking a wide forested valley
Seeds for Life collector Jason Halford collecting the geographically isolated Melaleuca pyramidalis on Walsh's Pyramid in Wooroonooran National Park. Credit: Simon Bush, Brisbane Botanic Gardens

Conserving the increasing numbers of threatened trees globally as a significant resource for humankind.

Trees are invaluable resources, providing essential materials such as timber, fuel, food and medicines. In the landscape, they perform vital services such as water catchment, erosion and pollution control and climate regulation. Yet, trees are under increasing threat from deforestation, over exploitation, climate change, pests and diseases. As global threats increase, we need to intensify our conservation activities in order to safeguard important species and essential resources.

Funded over a series of phases, the programme started in 2014, with the establishment of the Global Tree Seed Bank based at the Millennium Seed Bank (MSB), where the seeds of around 11,000 tree and shrub species were already conserved. From 2015 the MSB worked with partner organisations in 35 countries across the world with the aim to conserve over 3,000 of the rarest, most threatened and useful trees. In addition, research carried out at Kew and by our partners started to fill vital gaps in our knowledge of science underpinning effective tree conservation.

Following the success of the Global Tree Seed Bank Programme from 2015-2019, funding for a new phase was awarded by the Garfield Weston Foundation, to begin in January 2020 for three to four years. In this new phase, five of the projects represent established partnerships from the programme, allowing us to build on activities and achievements in Mexico, Madagascar, Bhutan, Thailand and Indonesia. In addition, three new projects have been developed with existing Kew partners in Mozambique, South Africa and Pakistan, countries with large numbers of threatened tree species not yet banked.

Complementing the new seed collecting activities are research projects and species conservation assessments to be carried out through in-country projects and at Kew. Based at the MSB, within the Comparative Seed Biology team, a research project entitled ‘IMproving the PREservation of difficult-to-store Tree Seeds’ – IMPRETS is underway. This research will improve our understanding of tree seed form and function and the application of low temperature science to the preservation of tree seeds.

The new programme also has a substantial training and capacity building element to strengthen partner organisations’ long-term capacity to carry out seed conservation work. This includes continuation of the MSBs Seed Conservation Techniques course and providing online training resources to a wider conservation community.

Regional and Country Projects

Africa

From 2015 to 2019 in Africa the programme worked with Partners in Cameroon, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria to collect the seeds of 283 species within the four countries. From 2020, the programme's focus has shifted to new projects in South Africa and Mozambique.

Project Coordinators - Southern Africa: Jo Osborne & Tim Pearce

Asia

Tree seed collecting programmes have been developed in the Eastern Himalayas, Indo-Burma, Sundaland and Japan biodiversity hotspots. Projects continue in Bhutan, Thailand and Indonesia. Smaller projects were also developed in Taiwan and Papua New Guinea, which have now been completed, but a new project has started in Pakistan.

Project Coordinators: Kate Hardwick, Aisyah Faruk (Pakistan) & Ian Willey

See our Asia region page for details

Australia (project completed)

The Australian Seed Bank Partnership (ASBP), including nine partners, completed all seed collection activities by 2019 and collected a total of 482 species.

Due to the devastating bushfires seen in 2019, ASBP received further funding in 2020 to support bushfire response activities.

Project Coordinator: Aisyah Faruk

See our Australia region page for details

Caribbean (project completed)

Within the Caribbean, the programme worked with partners in The Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos Islands, St. Lucia and Puerto Rico. A total of 120 species were collected, surpassing the 100 species target for this region.

Project Coordinator: Tom Heller

See our UKOT's region page for details

Caucasus (project completed)

The Caucasus represents one of the world's biodiversity hotspots. The major threats to plant diversity in the region are economic development and over-exploitation. From 2015-2019 the programme worked with partners in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Through this programme 209 species were collected in the three countries.

Project Coordinator: Ian Willey

See our Caucasus region page for details

Dominican Republic (project completed)

This collaborative project, coordinated within the Natural Capital and Plant Health Department, focused on conserving, propagating and restoring some of the most important and threatened forest species in the country. Primary outcomes included the collection, banking and research of 315 Dominican tree species, dissemination of research and fieldwork outcomes, and support for large-scale propagation, reforestation and restoration projects.

Project Coordinators: Tiziana Ulian, Elena Castillo-Lorenzo & Michael Way

See the Kew Science Dominican Republic project page for details

Europe (project completed)

The major threats to Europe's trees are human impacts related to economic development and the threats to trees from changing climate and the associated changing patterns in plant pests and diseases. To counter this threat, 330 species (182 unique species) were collected and conserved in seed banks.

Project Coordinator: Aisyah Faruk

See our Europe region page for details

Madagascar

Madagascar is a globally recognised biodiversity hotspot with over 4,000 native tree species. Much of the natural habitat is under extreme threat from forest degradation by subsistence farmers, illegal loggers and mining. With our partner institution the Silo National des Graines Forestieres (SNGF), this project aims to collect some of the rarest, most endangered and most useful species.

Project Coordinators: Vonona Randrianasolo, Stuart Cable & Tim Pearce

Mexico

In Mexico the project started in 2015 and aims to implement integrated in situ and ex situ conservation of tree species, prioritising endemic, protected and useful plants important for the livelihoods of rural communities.

Project Coordinators: Tiziana Ulian & Michael Way

See the Science-Based Conservation of tree species in Mexico Project page for details

Pacific (project completed)

The South Pacific region is a biodiversity hotspot largely comprising island floras that are vulnerable to alien invasive species. Kew's Millennium Seed Bank developed partnerships in Fiji, New Zealand and Hawai'i and supported conservation efforts to bank seeds from over 100 priority tree species.

Project Coordinators: Aisyah Faruk & Michael Way

Project Funding

The Global Tree Seed Bank Programme is generously funded by the Garfield Weston Foundation.

Garfield Weston Foundation

For further information please contact Clare Callow, Seed Conservation Projects Coordinator at the MSB.