In 2013, Royal Botanical Garden Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) launched its UK National Tree Seed Project (UKNTSP) in order to build a national, genetically comprehensive collection of UK tree seeds that are stored at the MSB. These are made available to support research and conservation. This will assist woodland expansion in the UK, and develop our understanding of UK tree species, the threats they face and solutions to these problems.
We've been a partner on the project since 2013. We recruited, trained and managed a nationwide network of superb volunteers to find trees in suitable ancient woodland, monitor seed ripeness and then collect the seeds at their prime and send them to the MSB. This task required some fairly niche equipment. An extendable pole with a pruning attachment, hard hats, giant tarpaulins, a GPS and a herbarium press (a giant flower press for tree samples). The foliage samples our volunteers collected will be housed at the Kew herbarium alongside type specimens from Darwin and other famous naturalists.
Great chance to learn something new, be outdoors, meet like-minded people.
Seed foraging adventures
As well as enjoying the scenery and fresh air on their tree seed foraging expeditions, our volunteers encountered all sorts of adventures including wild boar, orchid populations and suspected dinosaur footprints.
Once our volunteers had successfully navigated the local wildlife to retrieve the seeds, they often had to get inventive with their equipment. When it came to preparing and packing up the seeds, kitchen utensils were pushed into service as fruit strainers and plates used to keep seed originating from different trees separate.
I wanted to work outdoors in a conservation role following my retirement. Becoming a seed collecting champion with the Woodland Trust was a fantastic opportunity.
The fantastic end result was packages of tree seeds sent off to the MSB to be stored or used in research. The seed collection champions have dedicated their time and effort to locating trees, monitoring fruit ripeness and harvesting the seed, before sending them to the MSB. The majority of our collections were from blackthorn, common hawthorn, downy birch, elder, rowan, wild cherry and wych elm. They have made a significant contribution towards 59 of the 649 targets the overall project is aiming to meet. To date they have made 79 seed collecting trips, collected from 597 trees of 21 different species and sent in over 478,000 seeds. We and the MSB are very grateful to our volunteers for helping to make phase 1 of the UKNTSP a success. The work was generously funded by the players of People's Postcode Lottery.
I chose to become a seed collection champion to actively preserve wild tree genetic diversity for future generations.
Phase 1 of the UKNTSP project ends at the end of March 2018. Phase 2, which is expected to last a further 1-2 years, continues immediately afterwards. We aren't playing such an active role in phase 2 but will be collaborating with Kew to allow seed collecting on our estates. We remain fully supportive of the aims of the UKNTSP and will be working with the RBG Kew Millennium Seed Bank Partnership on a variety of new projects going forward. Look out for future projects with more seed collecting antics in aid of our stunning native woods.
The volunteering experience was great fun and a good excuse to get out into the great outdoors.