Kew launches native flowers project at Wakehurst Place

Botanist Stephanie Miles explains the seed project

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Experts at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank have begun a project to create seed stocks to help restore native plants to the UK countryside.

The UK Native Seed Hub, at Kew's West Sussex garden at Wakehurst Place, will grow plants which are difficult to cultivate in restoration programmes.

The project is initially concentrating on plants from lowland meadows or semi-natural grassland.

Since the 1930s, 98% of such habitats have vanished in England and Wales.

The project has started by growing lowland meadow species such as the devil's bit scabious, cuckoo flower, green field-speedwell and harebell at temporary seed production beds in the walled nursery at Wakehurst Place.

Larger permanent seed beds over 2.5 acres are being prepared to harvest seeds that can then be grown on by seed companies for conservation groups and landowners.

Limited seed supplies

The work will be carried out in partnership with the High Weald Landscape Trust's Weald Meadows Initiative, based in West Sussex.

Paul Smith, head of the Millennium Seed Bank, said there was increasing awareness of the importance of UK biodiversity but supplies of suitable seed were limited.

"Commercial companies were often unable to provide seeds genetically adapted to the intended site of restoration," he said.

"Local conservation organisations had insufficient financial clout and technical back-up to influence the market to provide the right kind of seed.

"Therefore, it made complete sense for us to look at how Kew's Millennium Seed Bank could help.

"Use of appropriate native plants will help landowners create diverse habitats, which will ultimately provide a healthier landscape for us all."

The four-year project is being funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, with a gift of £750,000 as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations.

The interim seed production beds at Wakehurst Place are open to the public until the end of September.

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