Seed conservation has it's roots in agriculture. In the past, farmers had their own ways of preserving grain or other seeds for future use. Now these techniques have been developed into conservation tools. Scientists concerned with wild plant conservation collect seeds as an insuranace against their future extinction and for possible future use in restoration projects.

There are two approaches to plant conservation:

  • In-situ conservation: here plants are conserved in reserves and national parks. This form of conservation protects whole ecosystems. However, even when species are in protected areas they may be vulnerable to the effects of political instability and natural disaster.

  • Ex-situ conservation: here plants (in the form of seeds, spores, pollen, embryos, buds, organs, tissues, or living collections) are conserved away from their native habitat. Conservation of seeds is complementary to in situ conservation and has some useful additional advantages. Storing seeds is an efficient way of conserving individual plant species because limited space is required and seeds can be stored easily for long periods of time. In addition, seed collections also represent an extremely useful research resource.

These approaches can be utilised together. For examples, subsets of seed collections stored in seed banks can be removed and germinated at any stage. Species can then be re-introduced to their original (or similar) locations many years after collection. In this way plant population numbers can be increased and hopefully extinction avoided.

© ENSCONET. European Native Seed Conservation Network