“You are standing in the world’s most biodiverse location,” proclaimed a yellow poster at the door of the largest global collection of wild plant seeds, sunk in an English hillside.
The underground concrete vault in West Sussex is part of the Millennium Seed Bank, where rows of steel shelves lined with glass jars store more than 40,000 plant species at risk of extinction as climate change pressures staple food supplies.
“We are fighting a genetic bottleneck,” said Christopher Cockel, a project coordinator at the seed bank managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
“Eighty percent of our calorie intake comes from 12 domesticated plant species,” he emphasised.
Historically, farmers cultivated at least 7,000 different plants to eat. But since the 1960s, they have focused on higher-yielding crops to produce more food using fertilisers, chemicals and new irrigation methods, said researchers at the seed bank.
That has come at a cost to biodiversity, while increasing contamination of drinking water and soil degradation.