Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership, based at Wakehurst Place in Sussex, is the largest off-site plant conservation project in the world. Working with partners across more than 50 countries, they had by 2009 banked the seeds of 10 per cent of the planet's wild plant species.
Their new goal: save 25 per cent by 2020.
The partnership targets plants from regions at risk from climate change and human destruction as well as near-extinct, rare and useful species. Sharing expertise with international botanic gardens, universities and NGOs, they work to ensure the survival of plants through seed conservation.
A typical seed collecting expedition comprises several collectors from different organisations, travelling to remote areas and using previously established tools and guides to locate target plants with ripe fruits or seeds.
On average three seed collections are made every day. Most collected seeds are kept in seed banks in the country of origin, the samples are sent to Wakehurst Place for testing and long-term storage. The processing and conservation involves several scientists who make sure the seeds remain viable. Extensive data on the plants is also recorded and compiled for scientific use.
A new phase in the long-term conservation project is about to begin - an initiative to bring the seeds back to the soil, rejuvenating priority habitats worldwide. This process will start with the restoration of several grasslands and meadows across Britain and extend over several years.