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City news, 11.08.2010 14:59

Houses may replace Europe's largest collection of crops

The Pavlovsk experimental station The Pavlovsk experimental station near the Russian city of St Petersburg is the biggest European field seed bank and one of the largest in the world.

Thousands of varieties of plants and crops there are found nowhere else.

The court hearing is scheduled for 11 August.

Recently, the Global Crop Diversity Trust appealed to the Russian authorities to save the collection, which many scientists call an irreplaceable biological heritage.

The Kremlin has not responded to the pleas, but the international community thinks it may yet do so at the hearing next week.

The court will then announce the decision regarding the earlier ruling of handing the station to the Russian Housing Development Foundation - a state body that decides whether public land can be used to build private homes.

A unique collection

The Pavlovsk experimental station is one of several such stations in Russia. It is affiliated to the Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry.

Agricultural scientist Nikolai Vavilov built the seed bank  thought to be one of the oldest in the world  in 1926, to preserve biodiversity and enable the breeding of new crop varieties.

"The collection is a source of genes to develop many new varieties of fruits and berries, and it is also a huge cultural heritage," Sergey Alexanian, head of the Department of International Relations at the Vavilov Institute, told BBC News.

He said the Pavlovsk collection holds about 320,000 samples of fruits and berries  100 varieties each of gooseberries, raspberries and cherries, and more than 1,000 varieties of strawberries. About 90% of the varieties of crops there are unique, he added.

In December 2009, Russia's ministry of economic development handed two of the station's land sites to the Russian Housing Development Foundation.

The institute's scientists went through the courts to appeal against that decision, but they lost their case and the land, which constitutes about a fifth of the station, will soon be put on sale. It is likely to be bought by a property developer.

The court is yet to decide the fate of the second, much bigger, site.

News source: BBC News

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