This year RBGE staff and volunteers have collected seeds from 14 trees and 29 conservation priority herbs, to help deliver Scottish species into the UK National Tree Seed Project and the UK Flora Project. Both projects aim to protect British plants and are coordinated across the UK nations by the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank (MSB), with funding from players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

With the co-operation and support of landowners and volunteers, these projects are working to increase the diversity of UK native plant species that are collected, seed banked and made available for wider use. Collected seeds are processed and stored at the MSB, which already stores seed from over 30,000 plant species from across the globe.

These collections will serve as a back-up in case species are lost in the landscape. But they will also provide seed material for current research needs such as testing for disease resistance increasing our understanding of the biology and ecology of UK plant species. Tree seeds collected as part of the project will be forming the UK’s first national collection of tree seeds.

Markus Ruhsam collecting Birch seeds around Killin

We have been searching for natural, non-planted plant populations to ensure that all collected seeds are local origin and genetically diverse. The first collections started in June with elm trees, and finished seasonally with holly in December. RBGE staff and volunteers have worked together to ensure that more than 200,000 seeds have been collected.

Searching for Saxifraga hirculus at Fealar Estate (Front: volunteer Stephen Wands, back: Martin Robinson (BSBI))

RBGE has a wealth of experience working with rare Scottish plants and the partnership with the MSB is a perfect opportunity to strengthen our conservation efforts by storing seeds for future needs. We are particularly excited in managing to find seeds from extremely rare species such as the Marsh Saxifrage. This plant rarely sets seed because of the effect of overgrazing, and it is therefore a great success to have its seeds stored safely at the MSB for future conservation work.

It can be quite challenging though to collect seeds in adverse Scottish weather conditions. Although collectors were lucky most of the time in terms of weather and midges, there are some memorable trips e.g. trying to find small alpine plants in gale force winds gusting to more than 60 mph at 1300 metres on top of Ben Macdui in the Cairngorms.

Natacha Frachon hiking to a remote Cicerbita alpina population in the Cairngorms National Park

The UK National Tree Seed Project launched in May 2013 with the aim of securing genetically diverse collections of UK native trees and shrubs. The species target list takes into account factors such as the species conservation status, its prevalence in the landscape and vulnerability to pests and diseases. The target species include many trees which underpin the UK’s wider plant and animal diversity, as well as supporting the woodland industry, tourism and recreation, such as ash, juniper, Scots pine, alder, beech, silver birch and yew.