Here we go again: UK genebank threatened

Prospect, a “union for professionals” in the UK reports that the University of Warwick plans to close HRI Wellesbourne, home of a Genetic Resources Unit that is effectively the vegetable genebank for the UK. None of the reports I’ve seen mentions the genebank specifically, and it is only one aspect of HRI’s activities that will be sorely missed if it is discontinued.

The debacle has not yet made it into the mainstream press — unlike the flap over the apple collection at Brogdale, with it’s right royal connections — although I happen to know that HRH Prince Charles has received seeds from HRI, whether he knows it or not. Nor is the genebank mentioned in any of the specialized reports I’ve seen. But this is the place that holds the bulk of the UK’s vegetable seed diversity, old and new, and that was established at least in part in response to the perceived genetic erosion taking place as the UK signed up for EU legislation on seeds. I believe the idea was first mooted by Lawrence Hills, who also founded the Henry Doubleday Research Association.1 The Ministry of Agriculture bought the idea but not the originator, placing the genebank instead at Wellesbourne, a few miles from where the HDRA eventually came to have its headquarters.

What now? The UK Government doesn’t seem to have said anything publicly, and its funding for HRI Wellesbourne is set to fall from GBP 5 million annually to just GBP 200,000 by 2012, one probably reason why the University is seeking to close the place. I can’t see a White Knight coming to the rescue this time, not for a bunch of vegetables. We can but watch and wait.

  1. Where I worked for a time. []

6 Replies to “Here we go again: UK genebank threatened”

  1. I think this is a very bad decision if it is like that. we in developing world are so much dependent upon the accessions. These institutes are just like Noah’s Ark and if due to paucity of money one has to close down then there is a serious problem with policy planners who do not understand the value of germplasm.

  2. It would be a great shame to see a genebank closing. This just goes to say what prioirty authorities places on genebank activities. We need to do more to highlight the value of these accessions to the authorities.

  3. This piece of news saddened me more than many recent disaster stories. All universities are struggling for funding at the moment and most are losing money that they rely on but surely this is something that transcends mere academic interest?

    Is there no one fighting the case? Can we get someone to fight or some journalistic interest? EU money, Lottery money? So many questions, I hope someone can answer – it’s all made me feel rather hopeless.

  4. Come to think of it, won’t the British government be under some kind of obligation under the International Treaty to maintain the Annex 1 material at least?

    1. A moral, but not legal obligation. The text is vague enough (“shall, as appropriate, promote”, etc.) to make this difficult to enforce. The only really enforceable part is about multilateral access (and even there…).

      The airplane plan, then?

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