Northumberland National Park is helping to preserve some of the UK’s rarest flowers for future generations as part of a national initiative.
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Millennium Seed Bank aims to protect global plant life facing extinction by conserving the seeds of rare species in a national seed bank as insurance for the future.
Northumberland is home to some of the UK’s most treasured wildflowers but changes in land management, habitat and climate change all threaten their survival. To ensure this rare flora is protected for future generations, Northumberland National Park invited experts from the Millennium Seed Bank to visit and collect seeds from characteristic species of the region.
A team from Kew spent three days collecting wildflower seeds from some of the Cheviot Valley’s richest flower sites for their collection. Uncommon species such as Maiden Pink (Dianthus deltoides) and Northern Hawk’s-beard (Crepis mollis) were found and gathered from fields in the Cheviot area. The seed gathering was made possible by the kind assistance and permission of landowners.
In total, 14 species were collected according to strict protocols so that over-harvesting is avoided. These collections were taken to the Millennium Seed Bank’s seed storage facility in West Sussex, which holds 13 per cent of the world’s seed-bearing flora. Here they are dried, checked for quality and stored in cold rooms at minus-20 degrees centigrade to preserve the seeds for long-term conservation and making a resource available for use in conservation, scientific research and education.
Heading up the project for Northumberland National Park, National Park Ranger, Shaun Hackett, said: "This is an extremely important initiative and we are delighted to be part of it. Northumberland boasts one of the world's richest and most unspoilt natural habitats with rare plant-life thriving here. Unfortunately, many of these species are vulnerable to subtle changes in climate, habitat and land management and there is a danger that some of them could be lost forever.
"It’s critical we protect Northumberland’s landscapes for future generations, which is why we wanted to work with the team from Kew on this project. Collecting seeds can be tricky. You need to get the timing just right. As well as requiring plenty of examples of the relevant plants, they need to be in seed and ripe for collection. We were very lucky and managed to harvest a vast amount of seeds from several different species. We were also helped by landowners in the area, who gave the project their full backing and allowed us unrestricted access to the areas where we know particular rare species grow. We can now rest assured that Northumberland’s unique habitats can be restored, whatever happens."
Stephanie Miles, UK Collections Co-ordinator at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, said: "Before this trip, Northumberland was poorly represented in our seed collections and we are keen to increase the geographic representation of UK native flora.
"Our project is trying to safeguard the future of our bio-diversity and unique habitats. Seeds stored in conservation provide an option for the future. In 20 years from now, who knows how many species will be critically endangered in the UK?
"Our visit to Northumberland reaped rich rewards and we are delighted with the seed samples we collected. Shaun from the Northumberland National Park was instrumental in identifying the exact areas of ancient woodland and upland meadows in which to collect the 14 species we acquired. This was my first visit to Northumberland and I was blown away by the stunning natural beauty of the area. We are hoping to come back next year to do some more work with Shaun and also plan to visit the coastal habitats."