Rare Madagascan plant seeds to be preserved at Wakehurst

Wakehurst SUS-150625-131446001
Wakehurst SUS-150625-131446001
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A citizen science project in Madagascar will see some of the world’s most endangered plant species being preserved near Ardingly.

The new project for the Millennium Seed Bank (Kew Gardens’ underground seed vault at Wakehurst, Ardingly), funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery, has 100 Madagascan communities helping to collect and conserve the island’s flora.

Wakehurst SUS-150625-131436001

Wakehurst SUS-150625-131436001

Madagascar is a large island off the south-east coast of Africa, with habitats ranging from rainforest to desert.

Millions of years of isolation have allowed unique plants and animals to develop - around 90 per cent of the island’s plant species are found nowhere else.

“Madagascar is a global biodiversity hotspot with over 13,000 plant species, of which nine out of ten are endemic,” said a statement from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

“Kew has calculated that 21 per cent of the World’s plant species are threatened with extinction, but we estimate that the level of threat in Madagascar is far, far higher (for example, 83 per cent of the 200 palm species in Madagascar are threatened) through reasons such as illegal logging, slash-and-burn cultivation and the production of charcoal.

“With seed-banking the only insurance against extinction for many of these species, this new project will, with the invaluable help of local communities, dramatically increase and accelerate the number of seeds and species being conserved through the MSB Partnership in Madagascar.

“Madagascar is also one of the poorest countries in the world, with 80 per cent of the population dependent on subsistence farming, where the farmer’s focus lies on growing enough to feed themselves and their families. This unprecedented project will not only provide valuable income for some of Madagascar’s poorest communities, but it will also encourage local participation and support in the conservation of new protected areas.

“Through unsustainable harvesting, many useful plant species, including famine food such as wild yams, are disappearing from the wild. A long-term goal of the Kew Madagascar Conservation Team (KMCC) is to enable communities to put back these species into the landscape, increasing productivity and biodiversity on deforested and degraded land, especially around communities.

“This is a fascinating project where for the first time we’re directly involving communities in the affected areas, bringing to light the incredibly diversity, yet devastating damage that is occurring in Madagascar today.”

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