A “tweet” from Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev has raised hope than one of the world’s most important seed banks for fruit trees can be saved from the bulldozer.
Residential real estate developers plan to build houses on the 91-hectare Pavlovsk Experiment Station near St. Petersburg, Russia, which has a field collection of thousands of fruit varieties, 90 per cent of them not found anywhere else in the world. Russian courts have rejected an appeal against the development.
However, earlier this month President Medvedev sent a “tweet” on the Twitter Internet message service which said, “Received the Civic Chamber’s appeal over the Pavlov Experimental Station. Gave the instruction for this issue to be scrutinized.”
The field bank was built up of local varieties from European Russia, Siberia and the Far East. It now includes apple trees from 35 countries, strawberry from 40 countries, black currant from 30 countries, plum and cherry plum from 12 countries and honeysuckle from Russia and Canada.
Traits in the germplasm collection could be crucial in developing new varieties that maintain productivity in the face of drought, climate change, new diseases and pests. Also, some of the fruits are believed to be extremely rich sources of chemicals that fight heart disease, cancers, and Type 2 diabetes.
Moving the Pavlovsk trees and plants is not easy and a move would take many years even if another site were available. Emergency relocation plans face huge technical and logistical challenges, especially the complicated legal questions and quarantine issues when moving plant materials across national borders.
The property developers maintain that because Pavlovsk Station contains a “priceless collection” which is part of the N.I. Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry, one of the world’s most important conservers of crop diversity. Nikolai Vavilov created the world’s first seed banks as repositories of crop diversity to help breed new varieties to meet threats to food production. Vavilov and Russia led the world in developing the concept.
In the 28-month siege of Leningrad (1941-44), 12 Vavilov scientists were among the million civilians who died. They moved into the institute to protect their seed collection and starved to death surrounded by edible seeds. Unless the Russian government intervenes, the International Year of Biodiversity will be marked by bulldozers destroying almost a century of work and an irreplaceable biological heritage.
“Gave the instruction for this issue to be scrutinized.”