Protecting Scottish trees for the future at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank

sml Ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior) copy

19th December 2017

Award winning Scottish charity Trees for Life is helping to secure the future of Scotland’s native trees by collecting seed from wild tree species in the North-West Highlands. The seeds are being stored in the underground vaults of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank – forming part of the UK’s first national collection of tree seeds. 

The UK National Tree Seed Project has been set up by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew to help protect UK trees and woodlands against pests and diseases such as ash dieback and other threats. The collections are used by researchers working on solutions to tackle the issues facing the UK’s woodlands and is funded by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery.

The seeds contributed by Trees for Life to Kew’s vaults so far are equivalent to around 160,000 trees. This includes a unique collection of ash seeds, known as keys, harvested from the most northerly ash wood in Britain at Rassal in the Highlands. Professional climbers helped to collect the ash keys from this ancient woodland site which is thought to be 6,000 years.

Emma Beckinsale, Tree Nursery Assistant at Trees for Life, says, “Being involved in the UK National Tree Seed Project has been hugely rewarding - we’ve explored new areas, found new tree populations, met helpful people, and have contributed to the conservation of native species.”

“Next year we’ll be focussing on collecting from native tree species which have seeds that are difficult to store, including different species of willow and aspen, a tree which rarely sets seed in the wild.”

Clare Trivedi, UK National Tree Seed Project Co-ordinator at Kew Gardens, says, “Building up our seed collections of the nation’s favourite and most important tree species is a vital step in combating the multiple challenges, including pests and diseases, which threaten to alter our landscape dramatically. We are delighted that Trees for Life is supporting this project to help us ensure that seeds from Scotland are collected and conserved.”

The UK National Tree Seed Project launched in May 2013 with the aim of securing genetically diverse collections of UK native trees and shrubs. The species target list takes into account factors such as conservation status, prevalence in the landscape and vulnerability to pests and diseases. The target species include many which underpin the UK’s wider plant and animal diversity, as well as supporting woodland industry, tourism and recreation, such as ash, juniper, Scots pine, alder, beech, silver birch and yew. To date, the project has collected more than 8.6 million seeds sampling from over 7,300 individual trees across the UK.

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