Two advisers (Becky Hughes and Lawrie Sampson) from FWAG South West in Cornwall recently spent a drizzly but fascinating day on the north Cornwall coast, helping staff from Plantlife and Kew collect thousands of seeds from a rare arable plant, to become part of the vast genetic resource at the Millennium Seed Bank (MSB).


A farmer near Newquay has been working with the RSPB to deliver conservation management on clifftop arable fields, to provide habitat for vulnerable farmland birds such as corn bunting and skylark. The management that is being carried out, supported by an HLS agri-environment agreement, has also provided perfect conditions for threatened arable plants to thrive.

The small-flowered catchfly (Silene gallica) is one of the target species of the Colour In The Margins project, which is part of the PlantLife Back From The Brink initiative. With project officer Hannah Gibbons, Steph and Jenny from the MSB and a number of other volunteers and NT officers, we spent the day learning about the importance of a national seed bank, how seed collections are made, and the importance of working closely with farmers and landowners to ensure that our vulnerable wildlife is preserved for future generations.

Taking seed collections is not as simple as first thought! First you have to assess the population (there were hundreds of plants in just the one field), then you calculate the number of seeds available, then you do some basic ‘quality checks’ on the seeds – and after a bit of maths, you know how many seeds you can safely and sustainably collect, to be taken up to MSB, cleaned and checked and stored away for years.

The field we were working in was a sanctuary for arable plants as well as supporting nesting corn buntings (which had all safely fledged before we were allowed access) – we saw quite a few late pollinating insects, even in the damp and windy conditions! This field over winter will also continue to provide food for birds and mammals, and will protect the soil from erosion. Truly delivering multiple benefits. A few passers by were very interested to hear about what we were doing!

Thanks to everyone involved for such an interesting and educational day and we’ll be looking to see what more we can do to support future events and collections.  If you have a population of wildflowers on your farm and would like to collect some seeds for posterity, or want to know more about using local seeds to enhance grasslands and margins, do invite us out for a farm visit!