History of the West Gippsland Seedbank

Apr 27, 2023 | Information & Resources

It’s more than 15 years since West Gippsland Seedbank was formed, and our group has grown and developed ever since. Below, we share the history of our treasured organisation.

Beginnings of the West Gippsland Seedbank

West Gippsland Seedbank was formed in January 2007 at the suggestion of three Landcare groups in the Warragul area: Mt Worth & District Landcare, Springsure Hill Landcare and Neerim & District Landcare.

The groups included nursery owners as well as a number of members who were undertaking revegetation on their own properties. They were concerned that they weren’t able to purchase seed with local, West Gippsland provenance.

At that time, South Gippsland Seed Bank was the closest source of indigenous seed, but not all of its seed was well suited to local conditions in West Gippsland. Plants grown from seed with local provenance are more likely to thrive than those grown from seed that has adapted to different soils and weather conditions.

As there was no-one collecting and supplying seed in West Gippsland, the Landcare groups decided that they would encourage some of their members to start a seedbank. A meeting was held in January 2007 at which an interim President, Rob Waddell, and interim Secretary, Merrin Butler, were appointed. Shortly after, the West Gippsland Seedbank Association was incorporated and members were invited to join.

In the beginning, the Seedbank received significant support from what is now the Wonthaggi Seedbank and Nursery, and from the Natural Environment team at Baw Baw Shire. The shire subsidised the cost of sending three of our members to a Florabank Seed Collection course, where they completed a unit in Managing Seed Collection. The nursery owners who had supported the implementation of a local seedbank were also very generous with sharing their knowledge and expertise.

We sold the seed we collected directly to land owners, nurseries and local organisations. We also advised land owners on direct seeding projects and helped them put together a list of suitable indigenous species for their particular site.

Seedbank volunteers cleaning seed in 2009

Cleaning seed in 2009

Finding a home for the Seedbank

Finding a suitable site for the seedbank was another issue. We needed to have enough space to spread out the collected plant material to dry before we extracted the seed. The space needed to be protected from the weather and from vermin like rats that would eat the seed. We started in a small shed at what is now Community College Gippsland, but we quickly grew too large for the space provided. Next, we moved to the property of a local land owner with a large shed.

In 2011, the Baw Baw Shire allocated us a shed and a large shipping container based at their depot in Normanby Street, Warragul, where we have remained to this day.

Increasing demand for local provenance seed

Our relationship with the shire grew. They were encouraging Landcare and other community groups to plant indigenous plants along creek lines and walking trails. Having a local seedbank meant that the shire was able to strongly support the use of local seed in these projects.

Many of the local walking trails and wetlands around Warragul and Drouin have been planted with seedlings grown from seed provided by West Gippsland Seedbank. Local nurseries were keen to buy our seed and the shire had the ability to require developers to use local seed when planting out areas on new housing estates.

Caroline Gully took over from Rob Waddell as President of our association in 2009. She had a wealth of knowledge about indigenous plants which she passed onto other members. She had long experience with direct seeding shelterbelts on her own property. This enabled her to provide practical advice to others who were thinking of doing the same.

Keeping the focus on seed collection

In 2019, our organisation decided to make some changes, to make sure collection of local-provenance seed remained our top priority. We stopped selling our seed directly to customers, and instead sent it to South Gippsland Seed Bank to sell on our behalf. We were well aware that most customers purchased seed from both seedbanks, so we were grateful to reach this arrangement with South Gippsland Seed Bank, with whom we’ve had a good relationship from our very early days.

How we’ve grown

West Gippsland Seedbank has grown and flourished over the years. Initially, there were only four members collecting seed, but today our numbers reach up to 15 members at times. We had started by collecting 2-3kg of seed from around 40 different species each year, and that has grown to 6-8kg from more than 60 species, depending on the year.

The latest chapter in our story

Our latest chapter began in 2020, when Lorraine Hobgen took on the role of President of the West Gippsland Seedbank. Our seed collection activities continue: some of our original members have moved away from the region, but there are always new members who contribute so much enthusiasm and energy. We plan to continue for many more years to come.

Merrin Butler