Tuesday 30 July 2013

The Quarantine House (Week 17, Tuesday)

Today we had the pleasure to visit the Quarantine House, where plant material that gets into Kew (from
donations and expeditions) and out of the gardens (for example to repatriate seeds to repopulate areas in the wild for which conservation had been undertaken) is scanned and kept to ensure no pest or diseases are released that could affect Kew's over 30,000 plants, or any of the involved countries' biodiversity.

The facility is new and state of the art, to comply with licencing authorities' requirements: it was designed for maximum containment and for sustainability. But an important concern was also to create a controlled environment that was affordable to run, as there are cases in which very expensive facilities failed to ever be used because of spiralling maintenance costs. And expensive facility this one was, built on a World Heritage site and a site of archaeological interest, with all the extra measures that demands.

The advanced technical features to contain risk are really special (fascinating to hear about the negative air pressure system that would suck any broken glass in, should a disaster happen, which is unlikely because the glass is double glazed and laminated to boot; and did you know that silicone is not a good enough insulating material, as it gets damaged by UV rays? -  a more detailed description of the features is available online. The latest technology is not all that is needed, though.

The duty of care and chain of custody requirements when dealing with such sensitive material as internationally moved plants requires that a sound process in place: legal and healthy are the two keywords here, something that does require extensive paperwork (for example the collection permits for expeditions), specialist skills, and special licences.

The building is licenced with a Plant Health Licence by FERA and the Forestry Commission, and needed to get an Home office licence for controlled drugs, to deal with some plants such the genus Erythroxylum. As the point of entry for pests and diseases are multiple, soil needs a special permit to be dealt with, which Kew is considering. And because Kew is also the UK CITES Scientific Authority for Plants, the Quarantine House also works in partnership with the UK border forces to ensure that the Convention is enforced and that material of conservation interest is protected.

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