Azara Blog: Kew wants more money for its seed bank

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Date published: 2007/04/26

The BBC says:

Britain's "Noah's Ark" for plants has just collected its billionth seed.

The Millennium Seed Bank will present the seed, from an African bamboo, to Chancellor Gordon Brown, as it seeks funds to continue operating after 2010.

Part of the Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG) at Kew, the bank already stores material from 18,000 species, some of which have become extinct in the wild.

Seed banks are seen as an essential part of plans to curb the rapid loss of biodiversity, in Britain and worldwide.

By 2010, Kew plans to have amassed seeds from 30,000 species, representing 10% of the world's plants.

"Now we're starting to think about where we go beyond 2010," the project's head Paul Smith told the BBC News website.

"And we want to get to 25% of species stored away by 2020. If policymakers are serious about funding adaptation to climate change, seed banks are a key part of that."

Seeds are collected by Kew's partner organisations around the world and sent to the RBG site at Wakehurst Place in Sussex.

They come from all over the globe, although British varieties are particularly well represented, with seeds from 88% of its native flora sequestered away.
"Scientists are always asking for money," conceded Dr Smith. "But what makes us different is that we have a proven methodology here, we have the network and we know how to do what we do.

"This costs about £2,000 ($4,000) per species; so to collect a quarter of what's out there would cost about £100m ($200m).

This sounds like a no-brainer, but it isn't. Scientists are indeed "always asking for money", as is every other special-interest group in the country (and on the planet). The question is whether £2000 is value for money. For one thing, other organisations are doing similar things. For another, if "climate change" (the buzz phrase that is used justify almost anything these days) sufficiently changes the environment so that a plant will no longer grow there, then it is not obvious that that species will ever survive anywhere again in "the wild" (and could even be a weed if re-introduced into some other location). Seed banks are more useful for dealing with short-term problems (e.g. war or drought). And this seed bank has a narrow genetic sample for most species, which means that much of the biodiversity has been lost in any case. (Of course, if enough money were thrown at this problem then Kew would deal with that issue as well.) But all in all, you would rather have £100 million spent on a seed bank than on most things the government wastes money on these days (e.g. useless overpaid consultants).

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