Autumn Lecture: GeneBank55: Saving the wild flower heritage of Leicestershire and Rutland

Date(s) - 20/10/2022
7:30 pm - 9:30 pm

Leicester Bowling Club

Richard Gornall,  Director of the Botanic Garden, will talk about,  “Saving Leicestershire and Rutland’s  wild flowers”

A new project at Leicester University hopes to save rare and threatened local wildflowers from across Leicestershire and Rutland from extinction. With support from the Friends of the Garden, the Botanic Garden has set up Genebank55, which focuses on plants throughout Leicestershire and Rutland, vice-county number 55. A vice-county is a geographical division of the British Isles used for the purposes of biological recording.

The project aims to store seeds from the rarest species of local wildflower from the surviving populations in a deep freeze, helping to conserve them for future repopulation.

Botanist Dr Richard Gornall, recently retired Director of the Harold Martin Botanic Garden, will address the importance of biodiversity and the need for its effective conservation. The causes of its loss in our local area of Leicestershire and Rutland (16% of vascular plant species to date) will be reviewed and appropriate conservation strategies discussed, including the setting up of a local GeneBank in which to preserve seed material. The procedures and processes involved in GeneBank work will be described, including targeting, finding, collecting and preparation for freezing. Finally, prospects for the future will be outlined.

Richard Gornall obtained a degree in botany from the University of St Andrews in 1975 and a PhD in plant taxonomy from the University of British Columbia in 1980. Since then Dr Gornall has worked at the University of Leicester Botanic Garden, initially as curator before becoming the director in 1999. Following his retirement in 2022, Dr Gornall was awarded an honorary associate professorship and is honorary curator of the Herbarium.

Additional background information:

Data assembled by the plant conservation charity Plantlife suggests that on average, two plant species are lost from Leicestershire’s countryside every three years. Some species appear to have only a single remaining population in the two counties and, in some cases, are even down to their last few individuals.

Changes in land use and modern farming methods are largely to blame for such declines in Leicestershire and Rutland. Habitat fragmentation has also harmed rare plants by confining populations to separate areas and making it difficult for them to interbreed.

The project hopes to mitigate the damage to local plant species by conserving them in a GeneBank.

Anna Farrell, Research Curator from the University of Leicester Botanic Garden, said: “A local GeneBank can make concerted and highly targeted efforts to conserve locally rare and scarce species. Every population varies from another in its genetic make-up, and it is important to conserve seed from these genetically different, locally adapted populations. Preserving local genetic diversity may be needed for future research and, of course, for the purpose of any reintroduction that may be planned for the future. There are also educational, social and aesthetic aspects that add to the value that comes from having a locally biodiverse countryside.”

Altogether there are over 300 species of wildflower identified as being rare in Leicestershire and Rutland. Of these, many have no record of their presence in recent decades and are probably extinct. However, over 100 may still be present in the countryside but in low numbers, having ten or fewer records.

The lecture will be followed by the usual tea/coffee and cake. Please let Elizabeth (0116 2705711)  know if you can bake a cake for this meeting.

All sensible Covid precautions will be observed.

Guests are welcome at a cost of £3.00