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Seed bank 'saving' for the future

13 May 09 13:53 GMT

By Tearlach Quinnell
BBC Gaelic journalist

If the oil ran out tomorrow, where would we find food?

That's a question that should worry us, according to some.

Most of the food we eat, and the seed that gardeners and farmers plant is imported from other areas and countries.

So if it couldn't be distributed in the necessary bulk, we'd have problems.

Up until about 100 years ago, it was common practice for gardeners and farmers to save seed from their crops.

It's a skill that people have had throughout our history. It's a skill that, to a large degree, we have lost.

Hybrid Seed

Chris Scatchard lives in Inverness and is part of the Transition Towns movement that is trying to ensure places could adapt to life without oil.

He's creating a seed bank of edible species that could be planted to feed the people of the Highlands.

Some maintain that the UK's access to oil will end quicker than others do.

Chris says we should be capable to do far more for ourselves, rather than being dependent on other people, in 10 years time.

Some would call that crankiness, and say that solutions will be found to any problems through mankind's ingenuity. But is it crankiness?

People all over the world are becoming increasingly concerned about food security, for different reasons, from global warming and rising sea levels, to the economy and over-exploitation of natural resources.

Seed is necessary - in one form or another - for life of any kind.

At times of uncertainty about the future, we like to be certain about things like that.

Whatever happens, it is a very new phenomenon in the history of mankind for people to be without the seed of vegetables and other food plants.

With a seed bank, seed would at least be available in a given area, if it were really needed.

There's another reason for it too though. If seed is sown and saved in a given locality for years, the plants adapt to the climate, environment and soil of that area.

For centuries, people have been doing this, and thereby creating unique strains of seed, that have adapted to different situations.

Many of these strains don't give what farmers and supermarkets want though, and those that haven't become extinct have become very difficult to get your hands on.

Much of the seed that is available to be bought, has been adapted through science (hybrid seed) as opposed to nature (open-polinated seed) and seed cannot be saved from hybrid plants, as they will not breed true, that's if they germinate at all.

There's a danger, as many of the traditional open-polinated varieties are not on the list of seeds that it is legal to sell, that they, as well as the skill of saving seed, will be lost too.

Chris wants to put seed from open-polinated varieties of food plants in his seed bank.

He's looking for volunteers with gardens, and an interest in sustainability, who are willing to raise plants for seed, that can be collected by the project.

He wants there to be enough seed in the bank in ten years time, for it to be possible to feed the people of the Highlands in their own areas.

Whether or not the UK does soon find itself without oil, there must be many gardeners who would like to learn a skill that was once taken for granted, and essential to gardening.

Who knows? They might be very thankful they have the skill, one day.

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