Russian seed bank loses court hearing


A Russian seed bank preserving more than 5,000 rare fruits and ornamental plants, including unique varieties of strawberries, plums, pears, apples and currants, moved one step closer to demolition after losing a court hearing Wednesday, in which rights to the federally-owned land were granted to a government housing development agency.

The Vavilov Research Institute, which manages the bank as well as 11 other crop development and conservation facilities across Russia, immediately filed an appeal. Another hearing will follow in about a month, at which point the land’s future will be finalized.

It is unlikely, however, that the ruling will be changed, said Cary Fowler, director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, an international organization based in Rome that has led an effort to save the site. Even Sergey Alexanian, deputy director of foreign relations at the Vavilov Institute, acknowledged that the Russian Housing Development Foundation is legally in the right.

The seed bank’s final hope is to win the support of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev or Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who have the power to overrule the court’s decision. So far, though, neither has responded to letters.

“This is a bad day,” Fowler said.

The seed bank, at the Pavlovsk Experimental Station about 20 miles outside St. Petersburg, is one of about 1,400 such facilities worldwide, each with its own unique collection of plants. The varieties they maintain are used by breeders to develop new strains, and also may be accessed after natural disasters to replenish crops.

The Pavlovsk facility earned a special place in Russian history during the World War II siege of the city, then called Leningrad, when 12 scientists chose to starve to death rather than eat the precious seeds.