Marie duQuesnay lives on an exposed hill around 850ft above sea level in Pembrokeshire and has been a seed guardian for nine years.
Seed guardians are volunteer gardeners who grow and preserve historic vegetable varieties.
There are currently more than 800 varieties of seeds in the Garden Organic Heritage Seed Library. Some of the seeds include rare landrace varieties which are adapted to specific growing conditions, heirloom varieties that have been saved over generations and varieties that are no longer available to buy. The library is based at Garden Organic’s headquarters in Ryton Gardens near Coventry and the collection is called the National Collection of Heritage Vegetables.
In total, there are 185 amateur gardeners volunteering as seed guardians and growing heirloom beans, peas and other notable vegetables all across the UK to protect biodiversity and the food of the future.
Ms duQuesnay is growing heritage varieties of Brussels sprouts, beans and the Duke of Albany pea despite the challenges of the altitude of her garden, cold winds, stormy weather and regularly being enveloped by cloud.
She said: “It’s been fantastic to have the opportunity to play a tiny part in such an important project as the Heritage Seed Library.
“It is so sad to see that the intensification of farming is narrowing the range of what’s grown and coupled with regulations (especially in the EU) around what seeds are certified for sale, we’re losing very local varieties. And once they’re gone, that’s it.
“We’re going to have to start to grow different varieties and different crops. And we need the Heritage Seed Library like never before. It will save lives and livelihoods I’m sure of it.”
The UN’s food and agriculture organisation estimates around 75 per cent of crop diversity has been lost between 1900 and 2000.
The seed guardians grow the plants in their gardens and allotments, collecting, cleaning and drying the seed and sending it back to the Heritage Seed Library so that it can be conserved. They also provide feedback on factors like performance, pest and disease resistance as well as taste.
Catrina Fenton, head of the Heritage Seed Library, said: “Up and down the country seed guardians are carefully carrying out conservation work with us, and we simply couldn’t do the work we do without their help.
“I rarely get to meet these amazing volunteers in person, so it was an absolute pleasure to chat with Marie when we were interviewed by Jonny Massey of Radio 4’s PM programme – her enthusiasm and dedication is exactly why the Heritage Seed Library has been around for almost 50 years.
“This work is more important than ever to ensure diversity in our food systems is available for future generations and to develop better adapted plants in a changing climate.”
Each year, up to 150 varieties of heritage seeds and included in the annual Heritage Seed Library seed list. Varieties have included amaranth Mrs McGhie, White Belgium carrots, Table Talk pea and the Mescher lettuce.
Between the beginning of December and the end of February, members of the Seed Library can choose six free packets to seeds to grow.
For more information about the Heritage Seed Library or to become a seed guardian visit www.gardenorganic.org.uk/hsl.