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Initiative with Kew Gardens to Protect Wales’s Trees Takes Root

Tuesday 17th November 2015

Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust volunteers collecting sloes at Roundton HillMontgomeryshire Wildlife Trust volunteers collecting sloes at Roundton Hill

With a host of new pests and diseases attacking the UK’s native treescape, a new consortium of Welsh organisations, working with Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, are tackling the threat, as part of the UK National Tree Seed Project.

The UK does not currently have comprehensive and genetically representative seed collections of native tree populations for research and use in practical conservation. The UK National Tree Seed Project, launched in 2013, seeks to fill the gap and will make seed collections available for researchers working on challenges facing UK woodlands and forestry such as pests and diseases and climate change. The Project has been rolled out across England with great success, and will now be extended throughout Wales and Scotland.

Thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, seeds from Wales’s best loved and most vulnerable trees and shrubs will be collected and protected in long-term storage in the vaults of the Millennium Seed Bank facility at Wakehurst in Sussex. The Millennium Seed Bank already safeguards practically the entire UK flora in its vaults and works to restore native plants and trees to their natural habitats.

bagged seeds ready for collection at Montgomeryshire Wildlife TrustFour organisations across Wales are partnering with Kew for the project, including Woodland Trust Wales, Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust, Gwent Wildlife Trust, and the Centre for Alternative Technology. Some of these partners already undertake tree seed collection and use at a local level but MSB staff have also provided training in order to meet the rigorous standards required for the Millennium Seed Bank collections. Together, this consortium of like-minded organisations will ensure that the collections already protected in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank will grow and become more comprehensive, eventually representing the full genetic diversity of Wales’s tree populations. This will create a vital resource for those working to develop more resilient woodlands across the UK. The project will also raise the capacity for collection and supply of seed of native species for planting across Wales.

Natural Resources Minister, Carl Sargeant, said:

"This project supports the principles of the 50-year vision outlined in our forestry strategy, Woodlands for Wales. As we are faced with a changing climate, the structure, species composition, genetic diversity and location of our woodlands will become more and more important to their health and sustainable management. Whatever we can do now to support and reinforce their quality will help to secure their resilience and longevity for generations to come".

Establishing the UK’s first comprehensive national tree seed bank is absolutely crucial.

Clare Trivedi, UK National Tree Seed Project Coordinator, said:

"We are delighted to welcome these new Welsh organisations to the UK National Tree Seed Project and look forward to working closely with them in the coming years.

In recent times we have seen an increasing threat to our trees from many newly arrived, often very aggressive pests and diseases, and challenges associated with climate change. Establishing the UK’s first comprehensive national tree seed bank is absolutely crucial. The UK’s tree cover is amongst the lowest in Europe. Avoiding further degradation of our woodlands, and the wider environmental, economic and social impacts of this, ultimately hinges on conserving the valuable genetic diversity of our trees and shrubs."

 

Species targeted in the Project include:

  • Common juniper (Juniperus communis) This evergreen species is one of only three native conifers in Britain and is at risk from the fungus-like pathogen Phytophthora austrocedrae
  • Common ash (Fraxinus excelsior) - At threat from ash dieback (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus), which first came to the public’s attention in spring 2012. This fungus kills the leaves and bark tissue, causes shoot death, cankers, crown dieback and ultimately the demise of the entire tree. Ash is also at potential risk from the emerald ash borer beetle
  • Common alder (Alnus glutinosa) -This water-loving species, typically found in wet woodlands or alongside streams and rivers, is at risk from the pathogen Phytophthora alni
  • Silver birch (Betula pendula) and downy birch (Betula pubescens) - The silver birch is a genuine native, growing in the UK since the end of the Ice Age. Its papery-white bark distinguishes it from the downy birch, which has reddish bark that turns grey with age

Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Partnership is the world’s most ambitious plant conservation initiative and Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank is the largest facility of its kind. Collecting and conserving wild plant seeds provides an insurance policy against extinction, supports practical conservation and provides options for the future use of plants for the benefit of people and the planet. Most of the collections are available for research and over a third have a known use to people.

Tagged with: Living Landscapes, Volunteering