Preserving Ireland’s Wildflower Seeds
A gene bank for Ireland’s wild plants
Established as a charity, so that the collections stay in the public domain, True Harvest Seeds is conserving Ireland’s indigenous seed-bearing plants by securely storing their seeds. Through the generous donations of seeds from local public and private landowners we are populating a seed bank. The seeds and associated material are cared for at our Seed Centre, Kilclief, Co Down. Associated material includes a herbarium specimen, a DNA sample photographs of plant and seed and last but by no means least data, without which the collection would be of little value.
This work will ensure the security of our natural capital into the future. Seed and access to material and data may be requested by bona fide individuals and organisations.
Our planned expeditions to make the high quality scientific seed collections take us the length and breadth of the island. We talk to local people, land owners and managers to find out as much as possible about target populations and if there is any doubt about their origin we choose a different population to make a collection from.
If saving the flora of this island is something that inspires you we would welcome your help. In the running of a conservation charity there are a lot of different jobs. We have listed some of them on our Volunteer page. The list is not exhaustive, so even if your particular skills are not listed here, enthusiasm, a willingness to learn and dedication are fabulous qualities and the flora of Ireland would love you to get in contact with us. We are particularly interested at this time in a volunteer Volunteer Leader. This is because we have so many requests to volunteer with us and not enough time to organise extra volunteers, which is a crying shame and we would love to fix this. This is an opportunity for the right person to also fundraise and talk themselves into a paid Volunteer Leader position.
If you would like to help financially we gratefully accept donations via our Donate page.
The right seed
If you are interested in growing native flowers in your garden you can help greatly by using flower seed that is of native ORIGIN.
In the right place
Use seed of our native species that originate from the island because seed that originated in Europe, Britain or elsewhere, is genetically polluting our flora. And the process is irreversible.
Bees don’t differentiate between flowers from here or overseas, they unwittingly cross-pollinate and the damage is done.
Ireland has been an island for arguably around 14,000 years and our flora has been growing here independently and is adapted to this island life. As an island we owe it to our mother earth to stop the genetic mixing of all the plants. We all know that when we mix all our paints in the paint box, all we get is the colour brown. Genetic diversity gives us all the colours in life’s paint box.
By using seed of native origin you are helping local insects and fauna that depend upon it. Native flora often has unique timings for growth, including flowering and seeding times. For example, imported hawthorn comes into leaf in January, flowers in March/April and sets seed in August, all too early – for the trees themselves, the bees and the birds. We are also losing species due to hybridisation, for example the bluebell with most of the country now sporting a fully fertile Irish/Spanish hybrid. This is leading to the extinction of the native bluebell.
True Harvest Seeds have been teaching this for some years, so to support our words we have started growing wildflowers for seed. Our growing business is entirely separate from the gene bank. Extra seed donations from kind landowners has made native production seed possible. Our donors gave permission specifically for extra collections because they wanted to help True Harvest Seeds provide native seeds and become more self sustaining. Visit our Online shop where you can see our efforts so far. We will be adding more species as the years progress.
We work onsite very closely with nature and because of that we are able to harvest each species successionally. In a natural population not all the flowers (and therefore seeds) are ready at the same time. We and our amazing regular on-site volunteers visit each of the 50 or so species in our field again and again throughout the season as the seeds come ready. We dry and store each as they come out of the field. At the end of the season we add all the mini-harvests together. This results in extremely high quality batches of seed because they consist of seed from flowers at all stages of the season – and not just from one harvest at one time of the year.
In terms of conservation because we harvest in this way, our seeds produce plant populations that are much closer to the natural rythmn of life. Our seeds have not gone down a bottleneck of flowering times. Our batches contain seeds that behave as close to a natural population as possible from an artificial situation.
Collect them yourself, responsibly
Why buy from us when you can collect for yourself! If you are interested in collecting seed yourself see the All Ireland Pollination Plan guide we wrote How-to-guide. Collecting and using pollinator friendly wildflower seed. This free guide includes an overview of legal obligations, but please do check the species you are intending to collect that it is not endangered and also the area from which you are collecting, that it is not protected. All Ireland Pollinator Plan How to – Collecting and Using Pollinator Friendly Wildflower Seed download here.
Please note, it is easier than you might think to over-collect from a wild population. If you take only one piece of advice from us, please stick to the 20% rule – take no more than 20% of the wild seed that is presented on just one day each year. Your landowner will know if anyone else has collected from the same population and keep you right.
The plight of our planet is now widely accepted. There is even a name, “ecological anxiety” for our feelings of helplessness in this era where our leaders seem bent on continuing financial growth and deepening divisions of wealth. The seeds in this seed bank are seeds of hope for a future of wild flowers for our children.