STAFF at Wakehurst’s world famous Millennium Seed Bank were left shocked yesterday by the announcement that its head is to resign.
Dr Paul Smith was a key figure in setting up the Seed Bank 14 years ago which aimed to collect seeds from all Britain’s native species of plants, as well as ten per cent of the world’s flora.
His resignation is a new blow to Wakehurst which has seen its visitor numbers halve in recent weeks since National Trust pass holders – who used to be able to visit free – became subject to a ten pound parking charge.
The move was introduced to address a financial deficit but left frequent visitors furious at having to pay every time they went for a walk at Wakehurst.
And the storm shows no sign of abating with tourist site Trip Advisor still rife with angry complaints and recommendations for other nearby gardens which National Trust members can visit free with their annual pass.
Wakehurst is the country estate of Kew Gardens in London which recently announced it would have to make 125 of its 750 strong staff redundant following cuts in government grants.
Dr Smith’s decision to accept voluntary redundancy will add fuel to the campaign headed by naturalist Sir David Attenborough which insists Kew needs to retain all its staff in view of its international importance to the scientific community.
Julie Flanagan, who organised the campaign, warned the Government that the loss of scientific specialists who had devoted decades to their work would bring areas of research at Kew to a halt.
But Dr Smith himself said he believed it was the right time for him to move on, adding that it had been ‘an honour and a privilege’ to work with so many talented and committed colleagues.