Pavlovsk: the expert commission reports

by Jeremy on September 29, 2010

Pavlovsk Experiment Station Hearing Video

Thanks to some fantastic global support, over at the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog is the news that the Expert Commission appointed to look into the collections at the Pavlovsk Experiment Station has stated that the collections are extremely valuable, are not in the best shape, need care and attention, and may be better off under new management, with
additional resources made available.

This is a pretty ringing endorsement of what the scientific world and more than 50,000 ordinary people have been saying: Pavlovsk is not worthless. It is priceless.

Getting to this point was an exercise in frustration and cooperation. Frustration because although over at ABW we knew that things were moving in Russia it was very hard to discover just what was going on. The Vavilov Institute’s posts in English were somewhat opaque. And yet they were transparent enough to allow one to hope. We tried plaintively to ask for help with translation, to no great avail, and then came the hour-long televised press conference, which was added to the mix by a commenter to the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog. While the VIR’s page told us who was on the Expert Commission, it told us nothing about their conclusions.

Eve Emshwiller, President of the Society for Economic Botany, took up the challenge,
contacted two of her people, and late this afternoon, thanks to the overnight efforts of botanist Tatyana Livshultz we had a result.

The five men being interviewed (at a press conference)
are members of an expert scientific commission that was appointed by the Russian Government Department of Economic Development to examine and report on the living collections at the Pavlovsk Experimental Station. They are all scientists/academics. They conducted a 1 day site visit and
submitted a report that concluded that:

1) The station holds extremely valuable (from scientific, agronomic, and historical perspective) living collections particularly the stone fruits (which was assembled beginning 80-85 years ago by the Vavilov Institute) and currants (which is a younger collection).

2) Some of these collections (particularly the stone fruit) are in
very bad condition (old trees at risk of death) and need urgently to be renewed (re-grafted, re-propagated); others (e.g. the currants) are relatively well-maintained. The brambles are overgrown by grasses.

3) The collection has not been well-documented or well-maintained. They recommend a change of management/administration at the Pavlovsk
Experiment Station, and additional resources made available for
maintenance and repropagation of the collection.

4) They recommend that the station be maintained. The 13 hectares where the fruit collections are currently planted must be maintained, an additional 20 hectares are needed to renew and re-propagate the collection while maintaining the original plantings. Additional areas that do not hold collections (e.g. a wetland) or are currently planted with field crops (grains or potatoes) are identified as unnecessary to protect and may be developed.

5) The commission recommends against moving the fruit collection, considered too risky (too great a risk of loss of accessions).

Clearly Pavlovsk needs to see some changes, and there is work to be done. Equally clearly, resources — which have been lacking for decades — will be needed. But the crucial point is that the fruit collections are worth maintaining, and not worth moving.

That’s a victory by any standards. Even if they are destroyed.

The story of the campaign is by now pretty well known, with large organizations orchestrating petitions and twitfests available to all and letters of support from academe. Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian President, responded with a tweet of his own, saying he had sent the issue for scrutiny. And presumably some of the more august letters of
support got some attention too. Personally, I don’t think Pavlovsk is safe yet, but I do think the tide of opinion in the Russian government may be turning. And I also think that everybody who contributed in any way — from single tweets to that fabulous rapid translation of the press conference — can share in the success, so far.


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