ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, Aug. 9 (UPI) -- The largest European gene bank of fruits and berries is threatened by development that could destroy irreplaceable biological heritage, environmentalists say.
The Global Crop Diversity Trust is urging the Russian government to step in and protect a valuable crop collection near St. Petersburg from developers' bulldozers, a trust release said.
The Pavlovsk Experiment Station's field collections, amassed over the last century, contain thousands of varieties of apples, strawberries, cherries, raspberries, currants and other crops, 90 percent of which aren't found anywhere else in the world, the trust said.
"It is a bitter irony that the single most deliberately destructive act against crop diversity, at least in my lifetime, could be about to happen in Russia of all places --the country that invented the modern seed bank," Cary Fowler of the trust said in Saturday's release.
Residential real estate developers want to build houses on land occupied by Pavlovsk Station, and the matter is now in the courts with a hearing set for Wednesday.
"Throughout the 20th century, Russia taught the world about the importance of crop collections for the future of agriculture," Fowler added. "This casual decision to destroy Pavlovsk Station would forever tarnish a cause that generations of Russian plant scientists have lived and, quite literally, died, to protect."
Russian scientists at the station famously starved to death rather than eat the seeds under their protection during the 900-day siege of Leningrad during World War II, the trust said.