Guildford Seed Bank
What Is A Seed Bank?
Seed banks offer a way of storing and protecting seeds to counter the current decline in biodiversity and to offer a safety net for the increasingly extreme weather events which threaten crop yields. Seeds are collected and stored securely for future use, often in vast numbers, and the UK actually has the world’s largest seed bank, just down the road from us at Kew Millenium Seed Bank!
With the acceleration of the ecological disaster, and our current rates of extinction, seed banks will play an absolutely vital role in preserving crop species and other vegetation to try to ensure a future world full of the diversity needed to support life. In Surrey alone we’ve lost 12% of our native species over the last few decades, with another 21% deemed high risk, highlighting how important it is to reverse this decline.
Seed banks come in two forms: The first, as the image of Svalbard seed bank demonstrates, could be described as a post-Apocalyptic world-saving affair, where seeds are locked away at very low temperatures in flood-proof, and even bomb & radiation proof bunkers! This ensures that despite the numerous threats we face from climate and ecological collapse, we have a preserve of food crops for future generations - with seed preservation typically modelled to last 150-1000 years in these facilities.
We don’t have plans to dig a fallout shelter under Guildford High Street (unless I missed that Members’ Meeting?), so what Zero Carbon Guildford is looking to build is a Community Seed Bank.
Community Seed Banks
What Does This Project Achieve?
Health & Wellbeing
Svalbard Global Seed Vault
Hands down winner of coolest Bond-villainesque Seed Bank
The second type is a community seed bank. A community seed bank, sometimes known as a seed library, is still geared toward protecting biodiversity, but is accessible to local residents, growers, and farmers. This makes them a great tool for employing collaborative resource & knowledge sharing across our communities to develop sustainable farming practices, tackle biodiversity decline, and to improve access to crops - especially those well adapted to thrive in local conditions, which will be key to future food security.
Like most things on this beautiful planet, corporations have found a way to monopolise and monetise seed. We - and the many other community seed banks across the world - believe that as a natural resource, seed should be freely available to everyone, and should be part of the revival of our lost public commons. Community seed libraries are therefore an important and effective way to counter the exploitation of our natural resources by international corporations, whilst safeguarding our own food security without reliance on fragile supply chains.
This is especially important given that 4 giant industrial agriculture companies control more than 60% of the global seed market. Worse, they are all chemical companies, and their seeds are genetically modified to withstand the harmful chemicals which these companies manufacture as herbicides and pesticides. Bayer-Monsanto, perhaps the most well known and most-offending of these companies, has already paid out over £1.5bn in compensation in the last 2 years for lying about the effects of their chemicals and concealing research done by their own scientists. Monsanto, along with BASF and Hoechst helped develop Chlorine Gas for the Nazis, so if you’re immediate thought is that seed companies wouldn’t knowingly harm human beings this should give you pause for thought.
Why Do We Need Seed Banks
Access For All
We strongly believe that in a world where our food security is threatened, every single person should have access to seed. This can allow us to collectively plan as communities how we adapt to a changing planet, and how to ensure we don’t starve if / when supply chains collapse. None of this is worst-case scenario, we already saw food exporting nations shut down supply chains following the global financial crisis, as well as during the Covid-19 pandemic, both major crises in their own right, but minor problems in comparison to the climate and ecological emergency.
The need for accessibility to seed and growing education is even more true for those with minimal experience in gardening or low income families. We want to see a community led plan to adapt to the climate and ecological crisis, and shared resources and community growing can play a big part in strengthening Guildford’s food system and building resilience into our food security strategy.
In turn, this work will help to educate and engage people on the threats of ecological collapse that are not being reported by the media, and raise awareness of the myriad dangers we are already seeing from genetic modification and patenting issues. We therefore intend to ensure the Guildford Seed Bank becomes a valuable public resource.
What Problem Is This Addressing?
The destruction of wilderness and natural habitat for industrial monoculture farming has led to a rapid decline in biodiversity.
Combined with the increasing threat of drought and flooding caused by climate change we face an unprecedented food crisis in the coming decades.
By improving access to seeds, education about selection and local crop adaptation, and community growing schemes, we can begin building resilience into our adaptation strategies and build frameworks for community-led food sovereignty.
Seed Banks And Climate Change
Global crop yields are at huge risk from climate breakdown. Drought & flooding are increasing in frequency and severity, and pose a severe risk to food production. Our current trajectory is toward 4 degrees of warming. It’s not too late to turn this around, nor to stay below 2 degree, but on our current path large parts of the land farmed globally will no longer be hospitable for farming. We can’t just shift our growing regions toward the poles, because it takes in excess of 100 yrs for an inch of topsoil to form naturally, so we simply don't have the time available to shift our growing regions, and therefore desperately need to reverse the human-induced warming trend to protect our food security.
Certain crops have built-in mitigation to the risks of the climate and ecological emergency, and these can be used to manage crop yields as part of a human adaptation strategy by safeguarding the seeds of individuals which survive extreme conditions. This type of ‘climate smart’ agriculture can be done between crop species, as well as with different strains of the same crops, for example millet copes with drought better than maize. Additionally on-farm human selection can aid this process, whereby growers select the individuals that survive climatic and environmental stresses to develop even hardier strains through human selection.
In this way, seed banks can be an excellent example of the dual management strategy needed to mitigate and adapt to climate change, whereby local solutions are employed in conjunction with global collaboration - one such proposal for example being the development of a global resource tool which presents adaptations of species & varieties, to allow new crop genotypes to be used in targeted localities, based on the knowledge and information gathered by local growers.
Seed Banks And The Ecological Crisis
Industrial farming and government subsidies have led to the development of monocultures. This is not how nature intended for plants to grow, and the result of intensive monoculture farming is the eradication of wilderness, resulting in a huge fall in biodiversity and with it an associated loss in habitats varied enough to support a wide range of plant and animal species.
To combat ecological collapse it is vital we begin moving away from monoculture farming, and developing resources which communities can use to take ownership of their own food security can play a big role in this, across both the Global South and Global North.
In addition, we’re already seeing massive problems driven by industrial monoculture farming and modified seeds. We all know about the decline in bees and pollinators due to pesticides, but there are numerous hidden issues, including the health effects associated with using the pesticides that multinational ‘seed companies’ produce, the forcing of farmers in Global South countries to adopt genetically engineered seeds, the cross-pollination with non-modified seeds, and the emergence of ‘superpests’. If a chemical kills off all but the most resilient of a pest species, then those individuals that survive to breed will become more and more resistant to pesticides, forcing farmer sot use more and more to unhealthy levels.
Genetically modified seeds have been touted by corporations as a ‘cure to global hunger’, when in reality they are setting us up for an unprecedented global food crisis. Industrial monocultures have removed many of the carbon sinks needed to counter climate change, and wilderness destruction has resulted in us entering the world’s 6th mass extinction. Governments that have allowed the seed monopoly to grow have pushed us to the brink of reliance on a handful of crop varieties, and as those begin to fail under increased climatic stress we are at risk of an unimaginable hunger crisis.
It’s not too late to turn this around. But we need to begin to understand where our food comes from, to take control in how it’s grown and how we protect our most valuable crops, and importantly to begin developing the knowledge needed to build local solutions for food security using the crops most suitable to our local environments.
Join A Community Seed Bank
As the name suggests, it's a community seed bank. So Zero Carbon Guildford is looking for volunteers to get involved with running and developing the Guildford Seed Bank project, who share our ambition of making this a valuable community resource and key component in a food security strategy.
Please get in touch with us to discuss volunteering for this or any of our other projects. We welcome people of all ages, backgrounds, and experience, so whether you were instrumental in developing the Svalbard Seed Bank or you've never heard of a seed bank until now but want to learn more we'd love to have you!
If you live outside of Guildford, Community Seed Banks has a map to help you find your nearest community seed bank.