Freezing vaults guard Earth's flora
The ultramod- ern facility in the tranquil English countryside looks like a perfect lab for a James Bond villain, but it doesn't hide anything sinister. The only thing kept in Ardingly are seeds, lots of them more than a billion, in fact.world Updated: Dec 15, 2008 14:29 IST
The underground bunker can block nuclear fallout, withstand a direct hit by a jetliner, and is cooled to a deathly chill.
The ultramodern facility in the tranquil English countryside looks like a perfect lab for a James Bond villain, but it doesn't hide anything sinister. The only thing kept here are seeds, lots of them more than a billion, in fact.
Scientists say this is the world's most diverse seed bank, but its keepers worry that the global financial crisis could cut its government and corporate funding and cause the seed gathering to wither at the end of next year, well short of its goal.
"This is the world's biodiversity hot spot," said Paul Smith, director of the Millennium Seed Bank Project, standing outside two room-size vaults filled with precious seeds which are kept at minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit to slow their metabolism.
"That's important for mankind. But if the funding situation doesn't improve, we'll have to stop collecting."
He has already seen a tightening of philanthropic budgets in recent months that is affecting the seed bank's future. "We have not raised the kind of money we had hoped to at this point," Smith said.
There are more than 1,000 seed banks including a newly opened, unmanned "doomsday" facility in the Arctic wastes of Norway that will ultimately house more than 1 billion crop seeds. But the one at Wakehurst Place, about 50 kilometres south of London, says it's the only global facility of its kind, unique for its focus on wild species, not just crops.