The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank aims to protect global plant life facing extinction by conserving the seeds of rare species in a national seed bank as insurance for the future – effectively a Noah’s Ark for seeds!
Northumberland is home to some of the UK’s most treasured wildflowers but changes in land management, habitat and climate change all threaten their survival. To ensure this rare flora is protected for future generations, Northumberland National Park invited experts from the Millennium Seed Bank to visit and collect seeds from characteristic species of the region.
A team from Kew spent three days collecting wildflower seeds from some of the Cheviot Valley’s richest flower sites for their collection. Uncommon species such as Maiden Pink (Dianthus deltoides) and Northern Hawk’s-beard (Crepis mollis) were found and gathered from fields in the Cheviot area. The seed gathering was made possible by the kind assistance and permission of landowners.
In total 14 species were collected according to strict protocols so that over-harvesting is avoided and now reside at the Millennium Seed Bank’s storage facility in West Sussex, which holds 13% of the world’s seed-bearing flora.
Heading up the project for Northumberland National Park, national park ranger, Shaun Hackett, said: “This is an extremely important initiative and we are delighted to be part of it. Northumberland boasts one of the world’s richest and most unspoilt natural habitats with rare plant-life thriving here. Unfortunately many of these species are vulnerable to subtle changes in climate, habitat and land management and there is a danger that some of them could be lost forever.
“It’s critical we protect Northumberland’s landscapes for future generations, which is why we wanted to work with the team from Kew on this project. Collecting seeds can be tricky. You need to get the timing just right. As well as requiring plenty of examples of the relevant plants, they need to be in seed and ripe for collection. We were very lucky and managed to harvest a vast amount of seeds from several different species. We were also helped by landowners in the area, who gave the project their full backing and allowed us unrestricted access to the areas where we know particular rare species grow.
“We can now rest assured that Northumberland’s unique habitats can be restored whatever happens.”
Stephanie Miles, UK Collections Co-ordinator at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, said: “Our visit to Northumberland reaped rich rewards and we are delighted with the seed samples we collected. This was my first visit to Northumberland and I was blown away by the stunning natural beauty of the area.”
For more information on Northumberland National Park’s work visit www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk or to find out more about the Millennium Seed Bank, visit http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/collections/millennium-seed-bank.