Thursday, August 19, 2010

Your Excellency – save this seed bank

Russian plum (Prunus rossica)
growing at Pavlovsk
(Global Crop Diversity Trust)
I've written to the Russian Ambassador in Dublin seeking an appointment to protest at the imminent destruction of the Pavlovsk seed bank, the world’s oldest, for development (of luxury flats according to one story I've seen).  Full story in The Guardian.  There's a more recent update, that President Medvedev has intervened and ordered an investigation into the decision.
During the siege of Leningrad, 12 Russian scientists chose to starve rather than eat the unique collection of seeds and plants they were protecting for humanity.  Whether they actually starved to death I don’t know, though The Guardian suggests they did.  But what foresight!  To recognise even in 1942 that biodiversity was being lost and once lost can never be replaced.
My letter to the ambassador says “This seed bank is a thing that your country must surely be justly proud of. It is without a doubt priceless. If there is any truth in the story as printed in the Guardian, then I consider it would be a matter of huge national shame.”
According to The Guardian the property developers argued that because the seed bank contains a "priceless collection", no monetary value can be assigned to it and so it is worthless. And a court upheld this reasoning.  Kafkaesque The Guardian called it. Although there’s no need to descend to vulgar abuse. It’s pure market economics. No monetary value = no value. End of discussion.  
The Russian agricultural minister has urged that the station be saved on the grounds that its heritage is crucial for food security as climate change grows more serious. The ongoing Russian heat wave and destruction of the wheat harvest will surely (surely?!) lend weight to this argument.
I struggled with myself before beginning my letter Your Excellency.  But sometimes you have to do these things.

1 comment:

  1. Paul Smith, Head of Seed Conservation Department & Millennium Seed Bank at Kew Gardens, tells me March 2012: “Yes, as far as I know the execution has been stayed indefinitely. I would have expected to hear if this was not the case.”