Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP) Seed Conservation Standards

Kew's Millennium Seed Bank developed its Seed Conservation Standards in 2015 for use across the partnership. Use of the Seed Conservation Standards ensures that seed collections of the highest quality are banked and maintain their viability. The MSBP Seed Conservation Standards - a set of 20 standards in seven key areas - assure users of the utility of collections and provide a basis for technology transfer amongst partners and capacity development within the MSBP network.

A circular flow chart showing the relationship of the seven key areas of the seed conservation standards. Collecting leading into processing leading into storage and duplication leading into viability monitoring leading into data management leading into distribution leading into seedbank management leading back to collecting

Setting standards for seed conservation of wild plant species is particularly difficult. In comparison with most crop species, populations of wild plants tend to be heterogeneous, with widely spread flowering and fruiting times. This may affect initial seed viability and vigour and, consequently, seed longevity. Seed dormancy is frequently encountered, creating difficulties for germination testing. Many ex situ conservation programmes focus on collecting seeds from small populations of rare and threatened species, meaning that desired seed numbers are difficult to obtain.

The proposed standards represent current best practice for long-term conservation of orthodox seeds. They draw on and reference various existing protocols and guidelines (see References). Such protocols may have been developed for a particular activity (e.g. seed testing), a particular set of species (e.g. sampling guidelines for rare and endangered plants), or to meet the needs of regional networks.

The adoption of the MSBP Seed Conservation Standards is encouraged across the network. A pdf copy of the MSBP Seed Conservation Standards is available to download through the Resources page.

The standards cover all stages of the ex situ conservation process and indicators are proposed for each with exception of those marked*.

Seed Conservation Standards (click key areas for individual standards)

Seed, herbarium vouchers and data are collected to recognised protocols or guidelines:

  • Standard 1.1: Genetic materials, including traditional knowledge, are legally collected and conserved.
  • Standard 1.2: Collection names are verified (ideally by reference to a herbarium voucher specimen).
  • Standard 1.3: Genetic diversity of sampled population is adequately represented.
  • Standard 1.4: Essential field data is recorded.
  • Standard 1.5: Survival of source population is not compromised.


  • Copies of agreements and permits showing that genetic materials have been collected in accordance with all applicable laws, including consent from government and landowners.
  • Herbarium voucher material collected from same population as seeds (or field verification made).
  • Agreement with appropriate herbarium to verify herbarium voucher.
  • Data records for: verifier, date of verification, name and authority used.
  • No more than 20% of the available, ripe, seeds are collected.
  • Field data records.

Seed collections are accessioned, dried and processed according to recognised protocols or guidelines:

  • Standard 2.1: Unique accession reference number is assigned to all incoming material.
  • Standard 2.2: Collections are placed in a dry environment of 15% relative humidity (RH) ± 3%, 15℃ ± 3℃, within 4 weeks of collection (immature seeds are ripened before drying; short-lived and/or microscopic seeds (e.g. Salix, Populus, orchids) are dried within 1 week of collection).
  • Standard 2.3: Collections are cleaned to remove empty, poorly developed and insect-infested seeds and debris.
  • Standard 2.4: Purity is assessed by X-ray and/or cut test.


  • Data records for seed maturity, drying, cleaning, X-ray/cut tests.

Seed collections are stored and duplicated according to recognised protocols or guidelines:

  • Standard 3.1: Seed collections are banked as soon as possible after drying to equilibrium with 15% RH ± 3%, 15℃ ± 3℃, and within 6 months of collection (short-lived and/or microscopic seeds (e.g. Salix, Populus, orchids) are banked within 2 weeks of drying).
  • Standard 3.2: Collections are held in air-tight (hermetic) containers.
  • Standard 3.3: Collections are stored at -20℃ ± 3℃.
  • Standard 3.4: Collection size is monitored to ensure that sufficient potentially viable seeds are available for effective management and distribution to users.
  • Standard 3.5: Collections are duplicated at -20℃ ± 3℃ after drying to equilibrium with 15% ± 3% RH, 15℃ ± 3℃ at a second, geographically-separate, facility or reason for non-duplication recorded (reasons include: low seed number, accession being regenerated and/or on priority list for recollection).


  • Records of container testing.
  • Functioning cold storage facilities (freezers, cold room).
  • Agreement in place with second seed bank.
  • Notification of Transfer (NOTs) records.
  • List of non-duplicated materials, with justification.
  • Collection size (i.e. seed number) data.

Seed viability is monitored according to recognised protocols or guidelines:

  • Standard 4.1: Initial viability is tested, preferably by germination test, and monitored at least every 10 years.
  • Standard 4.2: Management decisions (including to regenerate or re-collect) are implemented if initial viability is below 85% and if/when collection quality drops to 85% of initial viability*.


  • Data records for date of receipt and date of viability testing.
  • Germination test results (including data on fresh un-germinated seeds and empty/incompetent seeds if applicable).
  • Re-generation/re-collection lists.

  • Standard 5.1: A data management system, using recognised seed bank data standards, is in use and capable of export in a standard format.


  • Database records with mandatory fields completed.

  • Standard 6.1: Collections are available for use [under an appropriate Material Supply Agreement], at least in country where banked.
  • Standard 6.2: A distribution policy, with appropriate risk management for pests, diseases and potentially invasive species, is in place and applied.


  • Distribution policy available
  • Distribution data available

  • Standard 7.1: Risks to collections are accurately assessed and appropriate mitigation procedures are in place for significant risks.


  • Risk assessment strategy in place against major threats e.g. power cut, fire, flooding, earthquake.

Relevant Protocols, Guidelines and References