UK National Tree Seed Project

The Woodland Trust was approached by the Millennium Seed Bank, Kew, to become partners in their UK National Tree Seed Project, launched earlier this year and funded by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery. This is a fantastic opportunity for two key conservation organisations to work together to help secure the long term future of the UK’s trees. The project aims to gather a genetically comprehensive collection of important UK tree seeds to aid research and conservation efforts.

Veronica Greenwood is one of the first Seed Collection Champion volunteers to be recruited by the Woodland Trust to assist in the collecting of seed from our ancient woods. She has written a blog of her experience this year:

“When I embarked on training to be a Kew Tour Guide seven years ago, telling the stories of plant hunters was top of my ‘to do’ list.  So when I clicked onto the recent Woodland Trust newsletter and saw the call for volunteers to collect native tree seed for the Millennium Seed Bank’s (MSB) UK National Tree Seed Project, I was very keen to break my record of never having pocketed wild seed.

Kay Haw, the Woodland Trust coordinator, had to act promptly. It is a ‘mast’ year – a good year for fruiting bodies and she only had a few weeks to get some tree seeds in the bag this year.

On Saturday 19th October a handful of informed amateurs met in the car park of Ashenbank Wood, Cobham, Kent. Kay had already identified that Carpinus betulus (common hornbeam) was carrying ripe seeds, so we promptly set off with cloth collection bags, GPS devices, scissors for cut tests and a ground sheet to catch seeds shaken from branches. Our destination was  several generations of hornbeam within the ancient wood, including a few magnificent ancient trees.

Hornbeam seeds Raymond Winslow

Hornbeam seeds
Raymond Winslow

Ashenbank Wood was badly hit by the 1987 hurricane and many sweet chestnuts that were blown down remain. Some have died and steps have been cut into horizontal trunks where they cross paths. However, there are also a surprising number of fallen trees with ‘phoenix’ shoots. This occurs when a tree falls but some of the root plate remains in the ground and shoots grow vertically towards the light from the horizontal trunk – fallen but not beaten. We gathered seed from two hornbeams such as this.

An ancient hornbeam, thought to be over 500 years old, had been fenced off in the last month for safety reasons.  A split in the trunk revealed a ganoderma bracket fungus, a type of wood-decay fungus that can indicate/cause structural weakness. There were good quality seeds on the south side of the tree and we decided it would be an important specimen to send to the MSB.

Always resourceful, I had paired up with the tallest member of our party, Steve Waters – also an Ancient Tree Hunt Verifier with great knowledge to share over lunch. He clambered over the wide dead hedge that enclosed one side to measure the trunk for the Ancient Tree Hunt, so I joined him in the heavy shade.

Veronica & Steve collecting seeds Raymond Winslow

Veronica & Steve collecting seeds
Raymond Winslow

We carried out a couple of cut tests to assess the maturity of the seed inside. Solid white means ripe seeds, brown insides are dead/over-mature and if the substance if clearer/more jelly-like it is immature. Hornbeam seeds should be collected when they are beginning to turn yellow but still slightly green. We filled a special Kew bag and rearranged the brush as we exited.”

Veronica Greenwood, Kew Tour Guide and Seed Collection Champion

Ashenbank’s Volunteer Warden David Ware also joined us and shared his knowledge of the wood, its history and the wonderful trees growing there. There was a second collection the following weekend of Sorbus aucuparia (rowan) at Pepper Wood – another successful day. This year the team managed to collect thousands of seeds for the project. Hopefully next year will bring more seed collecting in other beautiful woods. Thank you to everyone (Veronica Greenwood, Suzanne Jenkins, Jenny Legg, Stephen Waters, David Ware, Andy White and Raymond Winslow) who took part this year!

Kay Haw, Conservation Team


About Kay Haw

Assistant Conservation Adviser, Woodland Trust. Nature is my passion, especially woods and trees which are just amazing elements of life. One day (soon) I hope we humans learn to work in harmony with Mother Earth.
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3 Responses to UK National Tree Seed Project

  1. This is all very encouraging! And as long as we still have enough places in which to plant tree seeds, there will be hope for the environment and the country in general.

  2. thehutts says:

    Great work! I was involved with collecting wild flower seed for the original Millenium Seed Bank Project and it is great to see this project is still going strong here and in our Overseas Territories:

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