Native Seed Conference at Kew Gardens

Emorsgate Seeds recently participated in, and presented at, an International Native Seed Conference at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. It is the first conference of its kind in decades (probably since a founding meeting in 1982 when wild seed growing in Britain and Europe, and Emorsgate Seeds, were just starting up).

This conference was organised by NASSTEC, as the culmination of a four year scientific research programme and collaboration with native seed producers across Europe to review seed quality of native species: their seed ecology, production and quality control policies.


This international conference provided an opportunity to share knowledge on all aspects of seed biology to the benefit of science, technology and industry, in Europe and beyond. As well as scientists, the meeting was attended by seed producers from 24 countries including: Norway, Netherlands, Italy, England, Denmark, USA, Spain, Scotland, Czech Republic, Sweden, Germany, France, Australia, and Austria.


Ann Kareen Mainz presenting from VWW the Association of German wild seed producers

The seed producers present were mainly key pioneer organisations responsible for developing seed production over recent decades within each country. Most are still comparatively small, either not for profit organisations or, like Emorsgate Seeds, small specialist enterprises.  It was really good to have a chance to compare notes with other people who have developed wild seed production independently, but in parallel, in different countries.  Whilst each organisation was working with a slightly different selection of native plant species, it was reassuring to see how close our journeys have been, and how similar many of the successes and challenges we face are.

NASSTEC resilience

Sarah Oldfield presenting an overview of native seed strategies in the US.

Seed Quality

Much of the presentations and discussions focused on the single question

"How to develop meaningful quality standards and testing methodologies that are both meaningful and practicable given the inherently variable nature of native species?"

Part of the response to this question involves acquiring scientific understanding of the special, often challenging, characteristics of seed development, germination and seed dormancy in wild species.  These challenges differ from seed varieties in agriculture and horticulture that have been domesticated by plant selection and have had these difficult traits removed or minimised.  The Millennium Seed Bank at Kew established 17 years ago Is now beginning to provide some scientific feedback on these topics.

The second challenge is how to apply this knowledge to seed crop production and to practical and meaningful quality standards.

One of the key issue that came out of the conference meetings in regard to quality control was that the seed market in much of Europe is largely unregulated when it comes to native seed.

All agreed that European seed regulation policies, where they apply, are either too restrictive or not nationally enforced for native seeds because they are inappropriate and burdensome.  This is in spite of a European EC directive, which states that marketing of native wild seeds and old heritage varieties should be permitted and encouraged. Implementation of this directive through European and UK Seed Regulations has been bureaucratically bound up by the interests of plant breeding companies who wish to maintain their monopoly of the seed market where they have ownership of PVR (plant variety rights).  This not only secures them royalties on their registered varieties, but legally prohibits the sale of any other unregistered, wild or obsolete heritage varieties.

Our shared genetic heritage

At the meeting, Emorsgate Seeds was keen to advance the view that the wild genetic resource in native seed should always remain ‘open source' and free to be shared and used by all.   Emorsgate have always believed that production and marketing of wild native seeds should be completely free of Intellectual Property Rights relating to their wild genetic origin. As such, any regulations or standards for wild origin seeds need to be separated and exempt from agricultural and horticultural seed regulations.

The conference brought people and ideas together.  Out of this, Emorsgate Seeds and other seed producers at a fringe meeting resolved to continue to work together and proposed forming a native seed growers association in the form of a ‘European Union' of native seed producers , a proposal that was received with spontaneous applause from the European delegates!



Emorsgate delegates at Kew Seed Conference. From L to R: Richard Brown, Jane Lipington, Laurie MacIntyre and Donald MacIntyre (an invited keynote speaker at the conference).


Posted on 24 October 2017,
Category: News