Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fresh hope for Pavlovsk seed bank

Saif Bonar in BSR Russia: In 1926, Russian Botanist, Nikolai Vavilov founded the Pavolvsk Experimental Station, 30km outside St Petersburg. It has since grown to become the largest collection of its type in the world with over 5,000 types of berries and fruits. The site, some 500 hectares is funded on a shoe-string, the average wage is $270 per month, yet 90% of its collection cannot be found in any other research station or gene bank in the world. Despite this, property developers are keen to destroy the facility to make way for upmarket country retreats or Dachas for the St Petersburg to elite to retire to at the weekend.

The announcement of Pavlovks's impending doom, in the early Summer of this year, startled the world's scientific community. A social media campaign urged people to send Twitter messages to Russian president Dmitry Medvedev. A more conventional petition also did the rounds by email and the media got behind the campaign applying futher pressure on the Russian government.

Unlike many research facilities and seed banks, the Pavlovsk facility is a field genebank, so its collection sits, lives and grows in the ground. This makes transporting or moving it elsewhere a painstaking and expensive challenge which the facilities director claims could take up to 15 years to complete.

Giving into the global pressure, President Medvedev ordered an inspection of the facility and the proposed plots to be auctioned off on 23 September. On 31st August, the facility was visited without warning by a range of government officials, representing the Russian Housing Development Foundation (who own the land and want to sell it), The Public Chamber and the Accounts Chamber. As a result of their impromptu inspection, the team conceded that the land which they intended to sell did in-fact house some of the Vavilov botanical collection and agreed to a postponement of their auction, which had been schedule for late September….

The Church of Mary Magdalene in Pavlovsk, from 1900

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