Autumn is always a busy time for Kew's Millennium Seed Bank (MSB), based at Wakehurst in Sussex, and this year is no exception. It's the best time of year to be out and about, hunting for seeds to store in the Bank's temperature and humidity-controlled vaults. The MSB is a vital resource to protect our natural environment, now and for generations to come. Most of the seeds lodged today will be viable well into the next century and beyond.
In the last few weeks alone, teams from Kew have visited South Wales, Cumbria, Wiltshire, Durham, Devon, and the South Downs to collect seeds from some of the UK's most beautiful ancient woodlands. The charity has been making new collections from tree species that are an important part of the UK's landscape, culture and economy. Many face an uncertain future as a result of climate change, pests, and diseases.
Support from players of People's Postcode Lottery – who have awarded Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew over £1.1 Million to date – has been a real boost for this work.
Last year alone funding helped Kew to safeguard over 3 million seeds from 30 UK tree species. And it's not just Kew staff who are taking part in this effort: more than 600 volunteers from 29 charities have been trained and supported to make collections. Volunteers range from primary school children to support groups for those with long-term health problems.
The MSB has a global role too – enabling partner Seed Banks in over 80 countries to conserve seeds from wild plants that are endangered, and that underpin everyday life as a source of food, shelter, and medicine.
As a general rule, half of each collection made overseas come to the MSB for long-term storage and research. This is how Kew came to be looking after over 2.2 billion viable seeds from 40,000 plant species!
As many as one in five of all plant species face the possibility of extinction in the wild, so getting them into safe storage is a vital race against time. The good news is that the MSB's vaults were recently extended, creating space for another few billion seeds.
Thanks to funding from players of People's Postcode Lottery, Kew has recently been able to make new collections even further afield in places like Cameroon, Madagascar and Indonesia. One recent trip even uncovered a rare carnivorous plant from the Nepenthes family that has never previously been recorded.