The UK National Tree Seed Project

Introduction to our ‘Guest Blog’ below (by Shelagh McCartan)

During the past three years, I have co-ordinated a collection of juniper berries (Juniperus communis) for the UK National Tree Seed Project, which is overseen by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. As such, I have scrambled up mountains and squelched through bogs in England, Scotland and Wales, collecting the sometimes elusive purple berries. I asked the project co-ordinator, Clare Trivedi, to provide background information about this ambitious 5-year project, which involves banking seeds from fifty native trees and shrubs.

Guest Blog by Clare Trivedi (UK Conservation Partnerships Co-ordinator, RBG KEW, UK)

In 2013, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (RBG Kew) launched the UK National Tree Seed Project (UKNTSP). The project will build a national ex situ seed collection that is both genetically comprehensive and comprises sufficient seeds to support research and conservation. It will also improve our understanding of how best to sample, source, store, germinate and use seeds from the UK woody flora. Over recent years, a series of high level reports and strategies have made the case for conserving, restoring and extending woodland cover in the UK in order to develop a coherent ecological network, resilient to environmental change. It is widely agreed that this requires an increase in the species and genetic diversity of planting material but there is ongoing debate over what guidance should be given to practitioners on which particular species, of which provenance, are most appropriate for any given tree planting project. In addition, the need to manage the risks from increasing incidence of pest and disease outbreaks in the UK are well recognised and a priority for research activity and practical actions. It is in this context that the UKNTSP was launched by Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank. Thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, we are now halfway through a five year initial workplan, focused on a priority list of 50 species. The resulting collections will be accessible to researchers in order to meet the many challenges facing UK trees and woodlands. The job is too big for Kew to take on alone and so we have developed a significant consortium of partner organisations. These range from small, local NGOs through to conservation organisations and government agencies. We have welcomed considerable support from the Woodland Trust, the Wildlife Trusts and the UK forestry agency, the Forestry Commission.

A key challenge for the project has been deciding where and how to make collections of each species in order to ensure they represent the UK genetic diversity of the species. Given that relatively little is known about the population genetics, it was decided that for every target species, seed collections will be made in each of the Forestry Commission Seed Zones where it is native. These seed zones are based on biogeographic data. The first step was to understand the distribution of the target species across the UK. This was achieved by first putting distribution data from the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI) into Geographical Information System (GIS) software. The seed zones map was used as an overlay to determine the seed zone occurrence of each species. Having determined within which seed zones the species should be collected, the next step is to find appropriate woodlands in a given area to visit, in order to collect the target species. We need to ensure that we only collect from trees that are native to the woodlands in which they are found. We also need enough target trees to make a quality collection. This takes time and effort but the result will be a much improved knowledge of the local provenance of seed sources for a wide range of species. Our partners play a significant role in this part of the project. Importantly, we keep collections from every mother tree stored separately in the seed bank, and each tree is geo-referenced and tagged. Overall, we aim for collection sizes of thousands of seeds from each woodland. It is hoped these strategies will maximise the value of the collections for studies such as provenance trials and screening for traits such as pest and disease resistance. We are now halfway through this ambitious project, and expect a significant number of collections to arrive at the bank in the forthcoming collecting season. While we always set out to build a UK National Tree Seed Bank, it is exciting to recognise that we are also building a wide and strong consortium of organisations interested in working to improve the conservation and supply of UK tree seeds.

For more information, please contact Clare Trivedi at c.trivedi@kew.org or see the project website here.

Dornoch, Scotland Glen Ridding, Cumbria Nant y gamar

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