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Kew launches native flowers project to restore vanishing habitats.

EXPERTS at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank are turning their hand to propagating an array of native flowers to help restore vanishing habitats such as meadows.

The UK Native Seed Hub aims to grow plants which have proved difficult to cultivate in restoration programmes, to boost efforts by seed companies and conservation groups to create diverse habitats full of flowers.

The project is initially concentrating on the lowland meadows that make up part of the country's semi-natural grassland habitats, 98% of which have vanished from Wales and England since the 1930s.

What remains is fragmented into plots averaging just two hectares, which Michael Way, one of the team leading the new project, warns is barely enough to support the wildlife that relies on them.

Efforts to introduce native species to new sites have hit problems because cutting and gathering hay from existing meadows only captures plants which are in seed at the time of mowing, while some species have proved hard to germinate.

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, project aims to increase the quality, quantity and diversity of native plants and seeds for conservation organisations and landowners. The scheme has started by growing lowland meadow species such as the devil's bit scabious, cuckoo flower, green field-speedwell and harebell at temporary seed production beds in the walled nursery at the Millennium Seed Bank's Wakehurst Place, West Sussex.

Larger permanent seed beds stretching over a hectare (2.5 acres) are being prepared to harvest seeds that can then be grown on by seed companies to bulk up their supplies for conservation groups and landowners to use.

Initially Kew's partnership with the High Weald Landscape Trust's weald meadow initiative in West Sussex will see it grow species to help local restoration work.

Mr Way said: "Lowland meadows are an important part of our grasslands, but in England and Wales we're down to less than 10,000 hectares in total.

"The average size of these meadows is two hectares which is barely enough to support the pollinators and all the other wildlife that inhabit them."

He said the plants already growing in the seed beds at Wakehurst Place showed a huge diversity in height, shape and flowering.

"The whole point of recreating these beautiful meadows is we want that diversity to be available long-term to future generations."
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 17, 2011
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