Wyches in the Woods

The second year of our involvement in the UK National Tree Seed Project in partnership with Kew Gardens’ Millenium Tree Seed Bank is underway. And what better way to start than with an early summer collection of Wych Elm (Ulmus glabra).

After getting landowner permissions for a woodland near Galashiels I had a good look around and found that it was full of Wych Elm and plenty of beautiful ancient woodland indicating flora. A few follow up visits confirmed the presence of huge numbers of seed across the woodland which would make for a perfect seed collection day with volunteers.
Heading into the woods in search of Wych’s

Around the time of expected natural dispersal the weather was particularly warm and accelerated the rate at which the seed matured. For that reason it became really important to get into the wood as soon as possible to collect the thin, wind dispersible seed before they disappeared.

The date was set, the volunteers notified and the seed primed for collection. We arrived in the wood on a particularly warm morning and after I had explained the plan of attack I was followed swiftly by the ominous sound of rolling thunder threatening to ruin our day (and attempt to collect seed).



Wet work but someone has to do it!
Sure enough, seconds later the heavens opened, but that didn’t put off the hardy volunteers. We decided to persevere and we all got to work picking seed, tagging trees, taking grid references and using some specialist equipment (and a little elbow grease) to collect some seed from higher up in the canopy.
Anna looking happy with her haul
It became clear soon after we started that there was plenty of seed to be collected and that we would likely exceed the target (of 10,000 viable seed). We moved around the wood and collected seed from a number of different individual trees as best we could manage. The rain eventually eased off giving everyone the opportunity to dry out a little as we collected all the bags of seed together and headed back to the minibus.
Myself and the seed collecting team showcasing the fruits of our labour in the woods
 As we left the wood I took a herbarium specimen to press, this will accompany the seeds when they are sent to the Millennium Tree Seed Bank Partnership in West Sussex so that the scientists there can confirm that the seed are from the correct tree species.
The pressed herbarium specimen that will accompany the seed to the seed bank.
The collection day is where the volunteer involvement ends for a seed collection. But, not where the work ends. After the collection I will take the seed back to the office and process them appropriately. In most cases this includes drying the seed before packaging as to avoid them becoming mouldy or rotten. I also input the data I recorded on the date of collection which includes the National Grid Reference of each individual tree that seed was collected from, the woodland type, soil types, aspect and any other additional information about the woodland that might be beneficial for those studying 
the seed.
Elm seed drying in our head office
Once the seed is dried and packaged with the additional information and herbarium specimen and a courier is organised. They will be collected from our head office and make their way down to the seed bank facility in West Sussex to be processed and stored at a low temperature so that they can remain viable for years to come.
A few thousand seeds bagged, boxed and ready for delivery!