The UK's flora does not usually spring to mind when considering endangered plants. However, with ever-increasing pressure from intensive agriculture, urbanisation, road building, pollution and climate change, current assessments show that one in five plant species in England are threatened with extinction.*
Before undertaking projects overseas, it was important to ensure the conservation of our own flora. The first phase of Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Project (MSB) commenced with the ambitious target to conserve all of the UK's native flowering plants that produce bankable seeds.
It was thought that there may be a number of species that present special storage difficulties, for example aquatic species which disperse their fruit or seeds under the water surface. Research at the MSB has found that, perhaps surprisingly, the majority of such species are easily stored under standard seed bank conditions, which means these seeds survive drying (desiccation-tolerance).
Project progress 2000 to date
Collecting and research work is ongoing and, to date, over 95% of the UK's native seed-bearing plants are represented by seed collections at the MSB. This is the first time that any country has underpinned conservation efforts of its wild flora in this way and the collections contribute to the UK's achievement of Target 8 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) relating to ex situ conservation of threatened plants.
Some of the remaining species which are not represented by collections in the MSB either do not produce seed in the UK, cannot be stored conventionally, or are too rare for a collection to be made without compromising the species' survival. Efforts continue, however, to track down the last elusive species that do not fall into these categories and to safeguard our threatened flora by conserving collections from multiple populations across their range in the UK.
Many of the seed collections have been harvested by the active and skilled volunteer botanical community in the UK and we are particularly indebted to them for their continuing commitment to the project. We also work in partnership with the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, the Botanical Society of the Britain and Ireland (BSBI) and specialist botanists.
Ongoing priorities are:
to conserve seed collections from the remaining bankable species in the UK flora
to increase the number of multi-provenance collections particularly from our species under threat
to increase the availability of sufficient quantities of seed, particularly from our most critical species
For further information please contact Stephanie Miles (UK Flora Collections Coordinator). Other Project Staff include Jennifer Peach (UK Flora Collections Assistant), Rachael Davies (Germination Specialist) and Joanna Walmisley (Horticulturalist).
*Stroh, P.A., Leach, S.J., August, T.A., Walker, K.J., Pearman, D.A., Rumsey, F.J., Harrower, C.A., Fay, M.F., Martin, J.P., Pankhurst, T., Preston, C.D. & Taylor, I. 2014. A Vascular Plant Red List for England. Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland, Bristol.