The Millennium Seed Bank holds samples of flora that have been scorched by Australia’s wildfires.
Unless you’ve been living under a very large rock recently, you’ll know that Australia has been engulfed by some of the worst wildfires in the country’s history. Over 6.3 million hectares have burned, some half a million animals are feared dead, and twenty-five people have died during the latest fire season. That’s in addition to the countless trees, shrubs, and plants which have also succumbed to the flames, turning the fire season into a full-blown ecological crisis. And yet, out of all this destruction, there’s still a glimmer of hope to be found – provided by Kew Gardens, and more specifically, their invaluable Millennium Seed Bank.
One of the most invaluable ecological stores in the world, the Millennium Seed Bank is situated at Wakehurst, Kew’s Sussex branch. It was founded to store seeds from around the world, saving vulnerable species from extinction by preserving seed samples in secure vaults, far from their natural habitat. The bank functions as a safety net intended as to safeguard the future of certain flora if their native habitats are threatened or destroyed, in concert with conservation efforts taking place in situ.
Obviously, widespread habitat destruction has become a stark reality for Australia (despite the hardiness of plants that have evolved to thrive in scorched areas), which is where the Millennium Seed Bank steps in. Due to a longstanding working relationship with the Australian Seed Bank Partnership, Kew’s vaults are filled with rare and threatened Australian species, some of which are in even greater peril in the wake of the fires.
Since 2000 Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank has worked with the Australian Seed Bank Partnership, banking rare and threatened species of Australian flora. When the time comes to rehabilitate these landscapes we hope this will be of value and that vital collection work can continue.
— Kew Gardens (@kewgardens) January 10, 2020
The hope is that when the blazes subside and the damage is counted, the species within the Millennium Seed Bank can (if needed) be reintroduced to the affected areas, minimising the possibility of total extinction. Whilst this is a worst-case scenario – there may be some hardy survivors, or seeds may be harvested from plant colonies in areas unaffected by the fire – it’s reassuring to have the backups ready to go. Replanting is, obviously, less preferable than preventing fires in the first place, but as the example of Australia proves, the valuable work of the Millennium Seed Bank and other similar sites could be the saving grace for our biosphere.
It’s not just Australia for which the Millennium Seed Bank is doing good things, either. In 2009, they completed an exhaustive project which stored seeds from all the UK’s native plant species, save for those which are too rare to harvest or whose seeds can’t be stored properly. Today, it’s the largest, most diverse genetic resource for plants in the world, with flora from 95 countries stored in the vaults. Really, it functions like any regular bank: full of savings that you hope you won’t have to dip into, but there when you need it – and as the past couple of weeks have proved, it’s one our world desperately needs.
Featured image: @wakehurst_botanic_garden
Also published on Medium.