Prince Charles is sending rare seeds from one of his estates to a ‘doomsday vault’ in the Arctic.
The wild plant seeds, from meadows at the Prince of Wales’ Highgrove residence, are among the latest deposits at the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard, off the northern coast of Norway.
Also new to the vault are the first seeds from the Cherokee Nation in the US – bringing the total number of samples stored there to more than a million.
The vault provides a back-up to the network of seed banks around the world which store, grow and replenish thousands of varieties of crops – but which can be threatened by war, accidents and natural disasters.
Storing plant seeds is also seen as a major safeguard against the affects of the climate crisis, and the heir to the British throne is again urging action before ‘it is too late’, as he opened up about his ‘demoralising task’ of persuading people to maintain biodiversity.
Experts say it is important to ensure genetic material is available for food security, as it enables plant breeders to develop new crops to withstand emerging pests and diseases and the extreme weather that global heating will bring.
Seeds of 27 wild plants from Charles’ meadows are also being deposited in the collection at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst, Sussex, as well as on the archipelago of Svalbard.
Charles said: ‘Ever since I first arrived at Highgrove 40 years ago this year, I have battled to preserve and protect the crucially important diversity of flora and fauna that ultimately sustains our survival on this planet.’
The plants, hand-picked from the pasture, are species that are disappearing from the UK landscape.
He said he had done his utmost to maintain increasingly rare seeds of heritage vegetables, varieties of fruit and native breeds, which were being abandoned 40 years ago in favour of monocultures.
The future King added: ‘It has proved to be an exhausting and often demoralising task to persuade people of the utterly essential role played by all this diversity in maintaining vibrant, healthy ecosystems that sustain both people and our planet.
‘It’s more urgent than ever that we act now to protect this diversity before it really is too late.
‘Therefore the Seed Vault and seed banks around the world play a vital role in this critically important mission.’
The Global Seed Vault, which stores seeds deep in a mountain in conditions which preserve them for decades, is run by Norway, the Nordic Genetic Resource Centre and the international organisation Crop Trust.
The scheme’s backers say they are aiming to highlight the importance of conserving the diversity of life in the face of climate change and losses to nature.
Crop Trust executive director Stefan Schmitz added: ‘The contribution from Highgrove is important not only because of the seeds themselves, but because it sends an important message to the world about the critical importance of biodiversity conservation in confronting the impact of climate change and biodiversity loss.’
The plants from Highgrove are part of the largest and most diverse deposit of seeds to be made to the vault since it opened in 2008, and the first since improvements completed in 2019 to prepare for a warmer, wetter future.
Other organisations depositing seeds include the University of Haifa, Israel, Morocco’s Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, the Julius Kuhn Institute in Germany, the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute, and the Baekdudaegan National Arboretum, South Korea.