Home Environment and health Protecting Durham’s trees at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank

Protecting Durham’s trees at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank

Owen Blake from Royal Botanic Garden Kew collecting fruits from a female holly (Ilex aquifolium) at Hawthorn Dene, Country Durham. Picture; RBG Kew
Owen Blake from Royal Botanic Garden Kew collecting fruits from a female holly (Ilex aquifolium) at Hawthorn Dene, Country Durham. Picture; RBG Kew

Hawthorn Dene’s tree seeds preserved

Experts from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew visited one of County Durham’s denes to collect and preserve wild tree seeds for the future.

The team were in Hawthorn Dene and found wild privet, spindle, holly and guelder-rose to include in The UK National Tree Seed Project, set up by Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, with funding from the People’s Postcode Lottery.

Tree seeds will be stored in the underground vaults at Kew, forming the UK’s first national collection of tree seeds, playing a vital role in conservation work, including research against pests and diseases such as ash dieback.

To look for wild privet, spindle and guelder-rose, which grow more frequently on limestone soils, the team at Kew selected sites along the East Durham coast.

Narrow, steep valleys

It is characterised by denes – narrow, steep wooded valleys eroded from the magnesian limestone bedrock. With holly widespread across varying soil types, the team hoped to find fruiting individuals co-existing with other target species.

Collections were taken from 25 separate trees and shrubs and sent back to the Millennium Seed Bank, where the seeds were cleaned and dried in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment before being stored in the vault at –20°C.

Royal Botanic Gardens KewIan Willey, fieldwork officer for the UK National Tree Seed Project who led the team, said: “It was a great trip, especially considering we made our northernmost collections of guelder-rose and spindle.

Beautiful wooded denes

“Visiting the many beautiful wooded denes and scrubland gills was a joy and I learnt much in the process chatting to local enthusiasts and dog walkers.

“It is great to see and hear how well areas have recovered after years of serving as dumping grounds for colliery waste.

“I would like to thank Natural England, Durham Wildlife Trust, National Trust and Durham County Council for their help and advice.”

Multiplying pests and diseases

Clare Trivedi, UK National Tree Seed Project co-ordinator at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, said: “Building up our seed collections of the nation’s favourite and most important tree species is a vital step in combating the multiplying pests and diseases which threaten to alter our landscape dramatically.”

The UK National Tree Seed Project launched in 2013 with the aim of securing genetically diverse collections of UK native trees and shrubs, such as ash, juniper, Scots pine, alder, beech, silver birch and yew. So far, more than 12.5 million seeds have been collected from more than 8,000 individual trees.

For more information about Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank visit www.kew.org/science/collections/seed-collection.

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Mandy Watson is a freelance journalist and an incurable plantaholic. MandyCanUDigIt grew from the tiny seed of a Twitter account into the rainforest of information you see before you. Gardening columnist for the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail and editor of the Teesdale Mercury Magazine. Attracted by anything rebellious, exotic and nerdy, even after all these years. Passionate about northern England and gardens everywhere. Falls over a lot.

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