The Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place
PUBLISHED: 17:14 25 April 2016 | UPDATED: 17:14 25 April 2016
When Prince Charles opened the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst, Ardingly in 2000 he described it as a “gold reserve…a place where this reserve currency, in this case life itself, is stored”.
The Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst is the largest ex situ plant conservation programme in the world, working with partners in 80 countries to bank seeds from the word’s wild plants, focusing on those that are most at risk and those most useful for the future. The loss of one plant species could deprive future generations of medicine for disease that is not yet even recognised. It could be the one plant capable of restoring the natural balance of a damaged habitat. It could be a super food able to grow in desert conditions and a valuable source of nutrition for people of the developing world. We can’t see the future clearly, so the Millennium Seed Bank and its partner seed banks act as an insurance against the loss of plants.
In 2007, the billionth seed was collected and presented to Gordon Brown (then Chancellor of the Exchequer) at 11 Downing Street – there are now well over two billion seeds. The Millennium Seed Bank has already secured over 13 per cent of the world’s wild plant species and by 2020 they aim to have safely stored seed from 25 per cent of the world’s bankable plants.
The seeds, which come in all shapes and sizes, require particular conditions for long-term storage, depending on the environment in which they evolved. Most can survive for hundreds of years if they are dried and then stored at -20 degrees C. Scientists in the Millennium Seed Bank not only develop protocols for the optimum storage conditions for each species, but they also investigate how to break dormancy – to wake the seed up again – so that it germinates and grows into a new plant when the time is right. The seeds of different species need different triggers to bring them into growth – variations of heat, light, water, even smoke and fire. They have already been used to regenerate areas around the world where species have been destroyed.
The Millennium Seed Bank is an integral part of the visitor experience at Wakehurst, together with the mansion and gardens. As well as providing space to store thousands of seed samples in a large, underground vault the public can view a permanent exhibition about seed conservation and observe live seed research and conservation in action in the laboratories which are visible through the glass walls.
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