I was interested to hear about the milestone for the Kew Millennium Seed Bank on Radio 4’s Today programme recently. They have just banked the 24,200th plant species - a Chinese pink wild banana that is much loved by Asian elephants – bringing them to their initial target of collecting 10% of the world’s known wild plant species.
Apparently four plant species risk extinction every day, and the seed bank partnership is working to collect and save seeds worldwide. Kew’s seed bank is based at Wakehurst Place, but their partners around the world also have seed conservation centres. The collection is being used for scientific research, helping poor communities adapt to climate change, for medical research, and for restoring extinct species to the wild. Kew has an “adopt-a-seed” initiative for as little as £25.
On a more down-to-earth level (sorry for the pun) the charity Garden Organic (formerly the Henry Doubleday Research Organisation) maintains a heritage seed library which aims to conserve varieties of vegetables not otherwise widely available. Rather than being a gene bank, they say, they will make all of their seeds available to their members. They are protecting over 800 varieties of seed, mainly European varieties, from the threat of extinction. Garden Organic have an “adopt-a-veg” scheme for just £20.