Funding Crisis Puts Kew Seed Bank in Jeopardy

A £100 Million funding shortfall in funding paints an uncertain future for the world’s leading seed bank project in Kew, London.

Scientists are said to have less than a year to raise the enormous sum, after which the Millenium Seed Bank, the most important of its kind, could face closure.

Dr. Paul Smith, head of the seed bank believes the ominous economic climate could worsen the hopes of finding the necessary cash: “We have enough to maintain things as they are but we have the vast majority of the funding still to raise. If we can’t get it our hopes of collecting seeds from the many plants under threat – the purpose for which the seed bank was built – will disappear.”

The aim of the seed bank, located in Wakehurst Place, West Sussex, is to collect 25 per cent of seeds from flowering plants by 2020 – a 15 per cent increase on the existing stock. A number of species’ seeds stored in the seed bank have already died out in the wild. Failure to secure the future of the seed bank could mean the ultimate extinction of species that already no longer exist in the wild.

Defra and other government departments are keen to keep costs down, despite negotiation efforts on behalf of Kew. A special lobbying team has been created to try and recruit funding before existing funds expire at the end of next year.

As climate change continues to make more land less suitable for existing major crop species, and more diverse and virulent viruses potentially loom, it is imperative that, at the very least, the world has a genetically diverse ‘backup’ of historical cultivars or crop varieties to fall back on. Not to mention the moral obligation of conserving as much of the diversity of plant life as we possibly can, especially if it becomes impossible to do so in situ.

Writing for The Times, Editor of British Ecological Society’s Functional Ecology journal Dr. Ken Thompson highlighted the “important role the seed bank plays in enthusing botanists from around the world.” Dr. Thompson also drew attention to the implications for research: “Not only are there seeds of plants that are endangered or have even become extinct, but the seeds are a vital resource for researchers who need them in a hurry… …seeds known to be viable and with growing instructions because of the work done before they were stored.”