The important conservation work of our Heritage Seed Library Seed Guardians was the focus of discussion on the World at One on Boxing Day.
The interview looks at the brigade of UK gardeners helping to grow and preserve historic vegetable varieties and protect food security.
Jonny Massey described the Heritage Seed Library (HSL) as a "lending library for seeds, rather than books" and called our HSL head Catrina Fenton and Seed Guardian Marie duQuesnay its "seed mistresses"!
Listen here via BBC Radio 4 - World at One (Starts at 32mins)
Catrina and Pembrokeshire Seed Guardian Marie talk about the crucial role Guardians play in helping to conserve our living collection of rare vegetables.
They explain how Seed Guardians are HSL members that volunteer to take on a little more responsibility and support us by producing, saving and returning seed. They grow-out the plants in their gardens and allotments, collecting, cleaning and drying the seed and sending it back to the library to be conserved. They also give feedback on important factors such as performance, pest and disease resistance and, of course, taste.
From the North Coast of Scotland to the Kent countryside, there’s now 185 amateur gardeners – from all walks of life - growing heirloom beans, peas and many more notable vegetables to help protect biodiversity and the food of the future.
Seed libraries save lives and livelihoods
While Marie might live on an exposed hill, 850ft above sea level, this hasn’t dampened her passion for seed saving.
From a couple of polytunnels at her smallholding on the top of the Preseli hills, Marie - who has been a Seed Guardian for nine years - grows all kinds of HSL vegetables and believes saving heritage varieties is crucial for their survival.
“I’ve been so impressed by the work of the Heritage Seed Library - and it’s fantastic to have the opportunity to play a tiny part in such a hugely important project,” 73-year-old Marie told us. “Sadly, the intensification of farming is narrowing the range of what’s grown and coupled with regulations around what seeds are certified for sale, we’re losing very local varieties. And once they’re gone, that’s it. We need the Heritage Seed Library like never before. It will save lives and livelihoods, I’m sure of it.”
Catrina said she was delighted to have the opportunity to talk to Jonny for the World at One programme and share our work with Radio 4 listeners.
“Up and down the country Seed Guardians are carefully carrying out conservation work with us, and we simply couldn’t do the work we do without their help. I rarely get to meet these amazing volunteers in person, so it was an absolute pleasure to chat with Marie – her enthusiasm and dedication is exactly why HSL has been around for almost 50 years. This work is more important than ever to ensure diversity in our food systems is available for future generations and to develop better adapted plants in a changing climate.”
Support our Heritage Seed Library
Each year, up to 150 varieties are chosen for inclusion in the Heritage Seed Library seed list, which members receive in December, and from which they can choose six free packets of seeds to grow. Go to gardenorganic.org.uk/shop/seeds to see what fantastic heritage seeds are available this year. If you’re not a member you can join now at gardenorganic.org.uk/join.