Ensuring the survival of endangered
plants in the Mediterranean

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (United Kingdom)

view into one of the wings of the Kew Herbarium. Photo: W. Stuppy

View into one of the wings of the Kew Herbarium. (Photo: W. Stuppy)

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew traces its origin back to 1759. Since 1984, RBGK has been a Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB) managed by a Board of Trustees under the authority of the 1983 UK Heritage Act. It receives about 50% of its funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs of the UK government which ensures that it has the resources to meet its statutory obligations, is accountable to parliament for those resources, and produces work of a high scientific quality and impact as required by the above Act. RBGK’s mission statement is “To inspire and deliver science based plant conservation worldwide, enhancing the quality of life”.

Well over one million people a year visit the two sites in Kew (London) and Wakehurst Place
(Sussex). These gardens hold the largest and most diverse collection of living plants in the
world, containing one in eight of all flowering plant species. RBGK’s Herbarium and Library hold the world’s most comprehensive collection of preserved plant material, plant products, botanical books, paintings drawings and literature while RBGK’s Jodrell Laboratory is one of the world’s foremost centres of experimental plant science including evolutionary biology and research into bioactive secondary compounds.

view into one of the seed vaults at the Millennium Seed Bank. Photo: W. Stuppy

View into one of the seed vaults at the Millennium
Seed Bank. (Photo: W. Stuppy)

RBGK has been involved in the seed conservation since the late 1960s. The Seed Conservation Department (SCD) is based at Wakehurst Place and manages the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership. The first, international phase of the Millennium Seed Bank was completed in 2009 on time and within budget, has conserved 24,000 species (10% of the world’s flora) and provided the technology transfer and research necessary to bring this about. Currently, the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership has 130 partner organisations in more than fifty countries, many established under legally-binding agreements. The Partnership aims to conserve and make available for access and sustainable use another 45,000 species by 2020 (25% of the world’s flora).

The Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) is the world’s largest seed bank for wild species. It holds over 50,000 seed collections of more than 30,000 species to internationally accepted standards. The seed bank is located in an underground vault of the Welcome Trust Millennium Building, opened in November 2000. In addition to the seed bank, the building facility contains processing laboratories, initial drying rooms, a germination laboratory, seed research laboratories, a seminar room, library, scientific visitor bedroom accommodation, a four-chamber glasshouse and an interpretation facility for the general public allowing them to see directly into the laboratories.

In total, SCD staff members have some 540 person years of managing, operating and carrying out research for a seed bank infrastructure. About 20 of the SCD staff are actively involved in seed research and over the past five years have published more than 80 peer reviewed papers.