Down the road from me is the Irish Seed Savers Association, an organisation that has been instrumental in collecting and acting as guardian for old Irish apples that had gone out of fashion and so were not available in nurseries. Some, indeed, were thought lost, only to be discovered leaning in the overgrown garden of a falling-down cottage, or still-fruiting in an orchard unbeknown to the owner.
Vavilov is in the news recently as his priceless collection of fruit trees and berries growing on 1200 acres near St Petersburg at the Pavlosk Experimental Station is under threat from developers. The land has been zoned for housing to provide holiday dachas for wealthy Russians. This collection is probably the most important in Europe.
I suppose some people wonder at the point of all this. Who needs all those varieties of apple or blackcurrant or pear? Or maybe potato. The famine that destroyed half a nation here in Ireland happened because the populace relied on a crop that had no resistance to the blight. We don't know what is going to happen in the future, or which of our plants are going to succumb to disease or, indeed, over-development by humans. To destroy one of our most important plant safeguards to benefit a few of the world's wealthy would be an unbelievable act of human arrogance.
Vavilov was arrested during one of his plant-finding expeditions to the Ukraine and accused of espionage, sabotage and anti-Russian behaviour. He died in one of Stalin's prisons. Now his legacy to the world is also under threat. Sign a petition against this destruction here.