BLOG: UK National Tree Seed Project, How You Can Help?

Posted on August 21, 2017 by

Bede West from the National Tree Seed Project based at Kew gardens discusses the project and how you can get involved. 


The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) is the largest seed bank for native plants in the world and is at the forefront of safeguarding the future of the planet’s flora.

Kew began its UK National Tree Seed Project (UKNTSP) in 2013, the aim of which is to establish multi-provenance seed collections that will represent the majority of the adaptive genetic diversity present in each species. These collections will be stored at the MSB and are intended to provide a resource for research and woodland conservation and management. The current five-year plan for the project is focused on a target list of 70 priority native species of trees and shrubs. This list was developed through a scoring and ranking system which included conservation status (based on the GB Species Red List), pest and disease risk (based on Defra’s Plant Health Risk Register) and prevalence in the landscape (based on the Plant Atlas). The list includes 38 Sorbus micro-species and 30 other native species. This ambitious initiative is too much for one organisation to do alone. Therefore, Kew has established partnerships with more than 30 other organisations across the UK to help source and gather the target seed collections.

‘Genetically representative’ collections

In common with most countries, the UK does not know enough about the population genetics of its native trees and shrubs to ensure seed collections are genetically representative of the national flora. However, the Forestry Commission has divided Great Britain into 24 biogeographic areas, termed native seed zones, for the purposes of commercial tree seed collecting and supply. This provides a proxy of likely areas of locally-adapted genetic diversity. Through the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) there are also good species distribution records – though it can be hard to tell whether botanical records are for native populations or planted ones (or indeed the number of individuals linked to a single record). Using this information, the distribution records across the country were overlaid with the seed zones map to develop a database of target collections. The aim is to make at least one collection from every seed zone in which an autochthonous (locally native) population of a species naturally occurs. Where populations are found both above and below 300m in altitude in a zone, attempts will be made to collect from both altitude zones.

However, developing a list of target collections is only the start. It is equally important the collections adequately represent the populations (or sub-populations) from which they are made. This means collecting from as many genetically distinct trees as possible. Teams are asked to gather seed from at least 15 separate trees for each collection. However, UK woodland is highly fragmented and for some species it is not possible to find this number of individuals on one site; in this case collectors must find several sites in the same seed zone. At the individual tree level it is vital seed is sampled from across the canopy to catch the progeny pollinated by different father trees.

Having worked so hard to capture the maximum diversity in each collection, it is important not to lose access to this once seeds go into storage. Therefore, mother trees are tagged and georeferenced, and seeds stored separately. This allows later users of the collections to study traits, such as disease resistance, for families as well as at the population level.

How can you help?

In Wales (seed zones 303 and 304) we have been struggling to find good sites for our final few species. If you think you have any of these species on your land it would be great if you can let us know so we might be able to arrange making a collection.

The species we are looking for are:

Wild cherry (Prunus avium)

Bird cherry (Prunus padus)

Wild service tree (Sorbus torminalis)

Broad-leaved lime (Tilia platyphyllos)

Small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata)

Field maple (Acer campestre)

If you think you have at least TWO trees of any of these species on your land the please get hold of the UKNTSP Fieldwork officer, Bede West via email ( or phone 01444894352 with the below information:

  1. The site name and location.
  2. The land manager/owner’s name and contact details.
  3. The species of tree you have.
  4. The number of each species.

RBG Kew, MSB UK collection programme website:



Tags: , , ,

Posts by date

February 2020
« Jan    

Search Blog

  Locate Community
  Join Us