The Millennium Seed Bank Project, an important international conservation initiative, is based at Wakehurst Place in Surrey. Scientists there are working with others around the world to protect 24,000 plant species from extinction. They've already assured the future of this country's 1,400 native flowering plants.
Seed banks work because seeds survive for hundreds of years if they're kept in the right conditions, and the seeds can be withdrawn at any time and grown to replace any plant threatened with extinction.
The scientists at Wakehurst Place, and their parent gardens at Kew, have developed processing techniques that dry and clean batches of seeds before storing them at minus-20 degrees Celsius. Now they have developed a mini-seed-bank for school use.
The kit is lunchbox-sized and includes three types of seed (maize, sunflower and beans in unlabelled containers), re-usable drying agent, two kinds of indicator beads, envelopes, small containers and instructions.
These are not as imaginative as they could be. There's advice on the well-known bean in a bottle experiment, but no guidance on how to set up successful experiments on tropisms or water stress, or even on the best way to measure growth rate.
Because of the length of time it takes to dry, process, store and then grow seeds, it will be hard to sustain student interest in the kit itself. Its use is probably restricted to schools with student gardens or very active clubs.
In the classroom, you could mention the kit in work on conservation, which is in the national curriculum at all levels, and if your school is close to Wakehurst Place, you could arrange an educational visit. (Phone 01444 894094 for details.) Jackie Hardie is head of science at Latymer School, London