The world-renowned Pavlovsk Experiment Station outside St. Petersburg, Russia, is slated to be bulldozed to make way for housing. One of the world’s oldest seed banks, the station houses some 4,000 varieties of fruits and berries.
Calling this “the largest intentional preventable loss of crop diversity in my lifetime,” Cary Fowler, the director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust in Rome is calling on the scientific community to intervene.
Established in 1926 by the Russian geneticist and botanist Nikolai I. Vavilov, the Pavlovsk station is one of 11 such facilities. Over the course of his career, he amassed a collection of 200,000 plant seeds from throughout the Soviet Union, and other places around the world. When he refused to recant his genetic theories, the Stalinist authorities arrested him and sent him to a labor camp, where he died in 1943.
Last year, the Russian Ministry of Economic Development handed over part of the station to the Russian Housing Development Foundation, a government agency that makes public land available for private housing development. A Russian court will decide sometime this year if the rest of the station will be turned over to private developers.
Appeals have been made to both President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, but neither has made any public comment so far. A spokesman for the housing agency disputed the value of the station.
Quoted in a New Scientist article, the spokesman said the land is “not utilised” and that assertions that there are “priceless collections on these pieces of land are false.”
The director of the station, Fyodor Mikhovich, however, said that “90 percent of the collection is found in no other research station.”
Mikhovich was not optimistic about the station’s future. He is hoping the collection can be saved and moved elsewhere, but that may be easier said than done.
Fowler, who is in charge of accumulating seeds for the “doomsday vault” in the Arctic, said there won’t be enough time to prepare them for shipment, find a place for them, and follow all the necessary quarantine requirements. Furthermore, many of the fruit and berry seeds might not survive the freezing process, and that the only way to preserve them would be to plant them.