True Harvest Seeds

Who we are

Julia Cross
Trustee - Chairwoman

Owner of InTune Therapies. Kindergarten teaching certificate. Mother of four children. Shaman, spiritual healer. Julia organises and contributes to our fundraising activities, from music nights in Belfast to joining in stand exibitions, she's really great with the children answering their many questions about seeds and in the true spirit of Chairwoman she endlessly promotes our conservation work.

In Tune Therapies
Becky Knight
Trustee - Treasurer

BA(Hons) Accountancy and finance. Becky keeps our finances right, she's the final say when getting the accounts ready for the accountants. Becky also keeps an eye on the charity's governance and reporting schedules and handles the trustees report that's available to the public through Companies House to let everyone know what we have achieved in any given year. Becky gives her advice and expertise freely and cheerfully because she's great at what she does and she enjoys her work, she allows the administration to be confident and assured that we get the charity governance right, which is a great relief.

Mark Bryson
Trustee - Secretary

NVQ Nursery stock production. BSc Sociology.
Mark holds trustee position of secretary on the board of True Harvest Seeds. He acted extensively in an advisory capacity on how True Harvest Seeds was set up in 2013. He currently assists with the field work in spring, mainly mechanical weed control, to help us grow our row crops of wild flowers at Kilclief organically. Mark is Director/manager EcoSeeds Ltd - an entirely separate business entity to True Harvest Seeds.

Katie Laurence
Trustee - Staff wellbeing

MSc Green Economy. Conservationist and social scientist. Interested in building stronger connections between humans and their natural world through promotion of sustainable behaviours. Promoting social justice and equality to empower everyone to put climate action first. "I'm so proud to be part of a forward -thinking charity that puts the building blocks of our habitats and biodiversity, the seeds, at the forefront of conservation and climate action, and connects people with planet and each other in such an inclusive and truly enjoyable way".

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Michael Thompson
Trustee for Marketing

Mike is a director at Iconic Biscuits, with 20 years in marketing, sales and digital content production for international brands.

His first love has always been wildlife and conservation, previously working as a wildlife and marine photographer around Ireland and South Africa. With his two children, he takes every opportunity to explore the plants and animals available, whether it’s a bird count in the back garden or exploring forests and ponds around the country. When a business colleague invited him to volunteer with True Harvest Seeds, he jumped at the chance to help preserve and learn more about, the native species of plants that make the island of Ireland unique and attract the many varieties of insects and birds that we enjoy everyday.

Iconic BiscuitsIconic BiscuitsIconic Biscuits
Joanne Murray
Marketing and Human Resources Trustee

Joanne started volunteering with True Harvest Seeds in October 2023, following a 3-year period of volunteering with her class from SERC, Downpatrick.

Her role is that of Recruitment Consultant, seeking to select and recruit the right people to join our dedicated and growing team.

With a BA Hons in Business Studies and a MSc in Management and Corporate Governance, Joanne also has over 10 years’ experience in the Recruitment Industry, so brings her expertise, experience and contacts to the organisation, to ensure we have the best team we can.

Debbie Gillies
Chief executive

Debbie Gillies BSc(Hons)Computing. Environmental conservation, Community facilitation. Community environmental leadership. RHS level II Hort. Seed Conservation Techniques - Kew's Millennium Seed Bank.
Debbie runs True Harvest Seeds (THS). She coordinates and organises contributions from trustees, volunteers and staff. She is passionate about working with collections of native populations from wild expeditions; which are accessioned into the THS seed bank for future generations. This involves much communication with land owners and managers, DAERA, NIEA, botanical experts and amateur botanists.
Debbie is also deeply involved in growing THS' native-origin crop plants, working in the field harvesting, cleaning and testing seeds and is committed to maintaining the organic status of the land with the assistance of the Soil Association.

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Mike Bennett
Long term Volunteer

Mike is a retired physicist so with his common sense and practical abilities he has joined in with everything we have put to him. From seed collection expeditions to seed harvesting and cleaning to irrigation installation to seed packing and numerous odd jobs, we are very glad to have his steady thinking and experience at hand. Mike dedicates time every week and we have learned to depend on his contribution.

Mary Pearson
Volunteer

Mary is a retired biomedical scientist. Mary is an Ikibana expert, you can see in her profile picture an example of her native wild flower Ikibana display. She selected plants from the field here at Kilclief and transformed them into this beautiful work of art.

Fergus Gordon
Volunteer

I joined THS in summer 2020. I had a keen interest in organic gardening. I was so glad of the opportunity to contribute to the preservation of Irish seeds. Not only that but i really enjoy the work and the good craic with like minded people. I enjoy the variety of work, from harvesting seeds to looking after the organic vegetable plot.

Sue Farmer
Volunteer

Sue has been volunteering since 2019. Sue is discerning and eternally and gently encouraging about our mission. Sue turns her hand to whatever needs done particularly around the nursery and working with raising the small plants. A fellow bee keeper she is on hand to discuss the finer conundrums that bees present on an ongoing basis.

THS is a wonderful place to be, i love the work, i love the people and there's no better place to have a shared picnic lunch. Sue

Kathy Webster
Volunteer

I’m a (nearly) retired aquatic ecologist who has been volunteering at True Harvest Seeds on an approximately fortnightly basis for 4 years. There is always something interesting to do at THS whether it is pricking apart trays of tiny tender seedlings, collecting seeds that have escaped harvesting by the birds, and even washing used plant pots. It is personally fulfilling to spend time doing such contemplative small tasks that contribute to an important effort to preserve native Irish plants and ensure the biodiversity and ecological integrity of the beautiful countryside is maintained.

Bob Foy
Volunteer

I am now retired from a day job as a limnologist who worked on lakes and their catchments in Northern Ireland but now enjoy beekeeping and gardening. Here in Northern Ireland, there continues to be a loss of semi-natural habitats capable of supporting our native flowering plants and our 99 native species of bees and other pollinators. To reverse this decline requires not only habitat renewal but also ensuring there is a local source of native plants as these will be best suited to this region. This is why the pioneering work of True Harvest Seeds is so valuable and where I have been volunteering since 2019. With Debbie’s enthusiasm and guidance there is always something interesting going on!   

Gill Start
Volunteer

Gill began volunteering in 2022 and adds an unfailing enthusiasm for our local area and for life. Gill is multi-talented with a particular fine-honed skill in making up seed mixes. She has boundless patience in de-hulling seeds that must be done carefully by hand, taking them home on many occassions to do in her "spare" time.
On 24th April 2024 Gill died. She left us with her cheeky grin just the week before shouting over her shoulder "i'll see you next week". Her illness was so advanced, but she was so determined to enjoy every day that she was able to tell us about it and then chat happily about everything else as well. 
We can't bear to remover her from here just yet. We want to honour and celebrate her life out loud for a little longer.

Marian Partridge
Volunteer

Marian started volunteering in earnest in early 2023. A renowned and expert herbalist she brings so much knowledge about the plants medicinal properties. Together we are planning to develop a physic, formal garden to the new Seed Centre Botanical Garden, comprising all the medicinal native Irish plants we have and perhaps even complimentary non-natives for example a Ginko biloba tree.

Philip Allen
Volunteer

Philip began volunteering in 2023. He has transformed the outside grounds around our office from scruffy to neat and tidy. Always thinking ahead and outside the box, from ways of working with the land, to fundraising, to wider environmental issues, tea breaks are always a mine of information and inspiration.

Clare Crow
Ecommerce Retail Assistant
Sebastian Thompson
Environmental Horticultural Assistant

Why did we start?

Back in 2013 on a Sunday afternoon, pondering the natural beauty of our native wild flowers, we wondered where Ireland’s Seed Bank is.  We didn’t find one. Several individual organisations, both private and public have great seed facilities already, but that work is primarily for food and agricultural crops. Crop wild relatives and some endangered species have also benefited from conservation work with various organisations across the island. But until True Harvest Seeds there has been no dedicated ex-situ seed bank for all our wild flowers, shrubs and trees. We also have some varieties of vegetables and herbs that do well here.

Ireland’s flora is generally regarded as being a subset of European flora. We at True Harvest Seeds question this and suggest that this is a broadly sweeping assumption.

It is for this reason we have set up a dedicated Centre for the research into and preservation of flora from the island of Ireland. Our ecosystems work as a whole which includes humans, we disregard any part of it, even the smallest and especially those we don’t understand, at our peril. The computer won’t work if even the tiniest diode is missing.

Getting set up

In December 2013 we took professional business advice and set up as a limited company with charitable aims and in April 2014 were awarded charitable status. Along with prior knowledge on seed technology, farming naturally without chemicals, horticulture and business we approached Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Partnership and in November 2014, two of their experts generously came here to stay with us for three days. They gave us training in making the high quality seed collections and much much more.  So many methods and much thinking – necessary for a successful seed bank. In 2016 Debbie undertook a three week live in course on Seed Conservation Techniques at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, tough stuff to learn so much so fast.

One of our members bought a field, in Kilclief, Co Down which enabled True Harvest Seeds to have a long and secure lease on two acres and this is where the Seed Centre is today. As a result of this plus the generous funding, we can accommodate visitors, pass on our learning by teaching, sharing and developing the Seed Centre and Seed Bank. At the Seed Centre we have an office, a polytunnel, a laboratory, community space and outdoor growing areas and beds.  If you or your group want to learn more you can book a tour to learn more.

Ultimately – what we are aiming to achieve – to create:

  • A Seed Centre of excellence; an indigenous plant resource centre on the island of Ireland. 
  • A gene bank containing a high quality scientific collection of each native species from each habitat. 
  • A research facility for genetic testing of our DNA sampling and information dissemination about the findings.
  • An ongoing source of native-origin seed, available via the seed bank for research or seed packets for everyone.
  • A hub for visitors to enjoy a day, exploring the plants that provide us with our unique natural heritage and the life it supports. 
  • A herbaria so future generations can see what the seed collections should look like if they grow out some seeds.
  • An opportunity for learning and becoming involved in this detailed work in practice – out collecting seeds and specimens – growing in the nursery – seed banking techniques. Who knows what present and future researchers will discover about Irish plant life once we can dedicate time and effort into native plant research.

We are extremely grateful to the efforts and kindnesses given to True Harvest Seeds, for the funding we have received from so many, for our skilled and dedicated seed collectors and for the belief you have shared with us in our vision – to save the future of our beautiful Irish wild flora. It has been quite a journey which continues…

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