SCIENTISTS from Kew have been to North Yorkshire to collect tree seeds of yew, spindle, geulder-rose and holly, as part of the National Tree Seed Project set up in 2013 with funding from players of People's Postcode Lottery.

The tree seeds collected will be safely banked in the underground vaults of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world, to form the UK’s first national collection of tree seeds.

Once banked, the collections can play a vital role in conservation work to protect UK trees and woodlands. The collections, and associated data, will be available to researchers working on solutions to tackle the many threats facing our woodlands including those of climate change and pests and diseases such as ash dieback.

To make the seed collections the team from Kew selected specific reserves across Northern Yorkshire and Cumbria. They visited woodland near Carlisle for holly and guelder-rose as well as the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors for spindle, holly and yew. The Kew scientists prioritise finding target species within ancient woodland, areas that have been consistently wooded since 1600AD – this increases certainty that the trees were not planted and are of local provenance. It is thought that seed from these trees will be best adapted to local conditions in the future.

Following collection, the seeds were transported to Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank in Sussex where scientists curate, monitor and germinate banked seeds. Upon arrival, the seeds are immediately removed from the covering fruit to prevent fermentation. They are then dried in a special temperature and humidity-controlled environment before being stored in the vault at –20°C. Frozen in time, the seeds can then remain viable for many decades and are available to support research and on-the-ground conservation activity.

Ian Willey, fieldwork officer for Kew’s UK National Tree Seed Project, said: “Visiting Yorkshire’s National Parks is always a joy and I am happy we were able to make important upland collections of yew, spindle and holly in the area. Native woodland above 300 m is much reduced in the UK so finding target populations can be difficult. The environmental conditions these woods face is often more extreme when compared to those at lower attitudes. Obtaining seed from the uplands is therefore important to ensure we have genetically representative seed collections stored at the Millennium Seed Bank.”

“We now have 325,000 native holly seeds from every corner of the UK safely stored and protected from any future threats.”

The UK National Tree Seed Project aims to secure genetically diverse collections of UK native trees and shrubs. So far the project has collected over 13 million tree seeds from over 70 different species across the UK, from Cornwall to the Isle of Harris.

This story first appeared in the Northern Echo.