Good News for Imperiled Russian Seed Bank

The Pavlovsk Experimental Station, a major Russian seed bank threatened by development, has received a partial reprieve.

Located outside St. Petersburg, the station contains more than 6000 varieties of fruits and berries in its fields. Most aren't found anywhere else and must be grown, rather than saved as seed, to be preserved. On 11 August, a court approved the transfer of 71 hectares of fields to the Russian Housing Development Foundation to be auctioned off. It had previously ordered the transfer of a separate 19-hectare plot with varieties of forage plants.

Scientists objected strongly, and President Dmitry Medvedev ordered a review of the decisions. Officials from the Russian Accounts Chamber and the Housing Foundation visited the station late last month. On 8 September, the station announced that the foundation had decided to postpone the auction for the forage plot until October. In the meantime, the foundation will form an independent, international commission to assess the uniqueness of the plant specimens. The station says it could receive up to 7 years to relocate forage plants if the auction goes ahead.

"It's a positive step, and we are grateful that the authorities have chosen to listen to the scientific community and provide a more transparent process," said Cary Fowler of the Global Crop Diversity Trust in a statement released today. Fowler remains concerned about the fate of the more important fruit and berry collection.