We were very lucky to get a behind the scenes tour of the Millennium Seed Bank at Kew's Wakehurst Place. It was a fascinating experience, and great to see the largest ex situ plant conservation programme in the world here on our doorstep in Sussex. Many thanks to Frogheath Landscapes for the invite.
Kew work with partners round the world to store viable seeds, creating a 'backup' of the earth's wild plants. They currently have about 36,000 species stored, and their target is for 25% of the world's species by 2020. When they set the target there were 100,00 less known species, so it is not an easy task.
We saw the seeds in their raw state when they are brought in, how the sorting and cleaning process works, and how they are dried at 15% humidity. Staff have to take a break from the drying rooms every hour as you are effectively being dried yourself from the moment you enter.
The seeds are also subjected to germination tests, to determine optimal conditions, and some are grown on for further research. Some plants from which seeds have been collected are already extinct in the wild, such as Cylindrophyllum halli, so the importance of the work has already been seen. Who knows how many species will be extinct in the wild in the future.
The other great aspect of the visit was a chance to go round the grounds of Wakehurst Place. The conservation and collection theme continues in the grounds, with an emphasis on South American and Australasian planting. I particularly liked the Nothofagus collection, the wild flower meadows and the many Wollemia nobilis and Araucaria araucana. They've got great plans to update the grounds including the national Betula Collection.
The whole place is well worth a visit, even without the backstage pass.