Seeds from species including Scotland’s national tree and the critically endangered gin bush juniper are to be collected and stored at the new hi-tech Millennium Seed Bank as experts work to find a solution to some of the key dangers facing global woodlands.
There is currently no comprehensive and genetically representative seed collection for all native tree populations found across the country. The UK National Tree Seed Project was set up in 2013 to fill that gap.
The scheme, which has already been rolled out across England, is now being extended throughout Scotland and Wales.
It will preserve examples collected from every zone in which a species occurs and from all genetically distinct populations.
The project will make the material available for scientists working on major new challenges that are threatening forest survival, such as climate change and alien pests and diseases.
A new consortium of Scottish organisations will be working with the seed bank at Kew Gardens to complete the collection, including Forestry Commission Scotland, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) and several conservation charities.
Many already collect tree seeds for use at a local level but this latest move will ensure the full genetic diversity of Scottish tree populations is represented and preserved for wider use.
Experts say the seed bank is a vital resource for those working to develop more resilient woodlands across the UK and will also raise the capacity for collection and supply of native species for planting across Scotland.
“The major benefits of this project are in the battle against major threats to native trees,” said David Knott, curator of living collections at RBGE.
“We need to do everything we can to ensure their survival. There is also the wider habitat, the ecosystem. Trees are a major component. If you lose them there is a huge impact on other species – you get a domino effect.
“It is very important to safeguard the long-term future of our trees. If in another two or three generations or more we can use these seeds to ensure the survival of a species, that can only be a good thing.”
Project coordinator Clare Trivedi said: “In recent times we have seen an increasing threat to our trees from many newly arrived, often very aggressive pests and diseases, and challenges associated with climate change.
“Establishing the UK’s first comprehensive national tree seed bank is absolutely crucial.
“The UK’s tree cover is amongst the lowest in Europe. Avoiding further degradation of our woodlands, and the wider environmental, economic and social impacts of this, ultimately hinges on conserving the valuable genetic diversity of our trees and shrubs.” As well as juniper and Scots pine, targeted species include common ash, common alder, silver birch and the closely related downy birch.