Gene pools and seed banks – an analogy

In a Radio 4 interview yesterday morning, a student from Bicton farm said that she was looking forward to the lectures on ‘rare breeds’. They had become rare over the years because the popular breeds were more profitable, easier to breed and to manage. The problem was that, in the long-term, the more inbred a species became, the more its vulnerability to disease. Apart from liking the animals themselves, she pointed out that the rare breeds were an important part of the gene pool for sheep, pigs and goats etc.

Last Monday, we were discussing  seed banks that have been set up to contain samples of the seed of every plant on Earth. They exist to be a reserve in the event that other seed reserves are lost.

The gene pool and the seed bank provide a good analogy for my thoughts on the knowledge, skills and attitudes of previous generations.

I like digital technology. I am using it as I write. I will continue to upgrade as and when seems appropriate in the many areas of my life that it has appeared. However, there is a danger that the speed of progress doesn’t allow time to bed each new technological step into the natural rhythm of life. Instead of gaining an extra tool – a useful aid to living, we can become ensnared by it. It can become all-consuming, a distraction from everyday living. To pick up the analogy of the gene pool – the effect of concentrating on technology leads to a ‘rare breeds’ situation – it becomes vulnerable to disruption, for example, a break down in a power supply. The ‘rarer breeds’ – the more neglected areas of life, contain pools of knowledge, skills and attitudes that are invaluable in everyday life and vital in the face of a catastrophic breakdown in technology.

One of the aims of this blog is to extract from those pools knowledge, skills and attitudes that came from before technology took over. Instead of forgetting them or consigning them to a museum – (locking them away in case they may be needed one day, as in the seed bank), we would do well to keep them in the open and continually remember them.

If this sounds familiar – it is. If it bears repeating – it does.


P1030804Also yesterday morning, we walked along the bank of the River Dart to look at the snowdrops. Recent rain had made the path muddy, but the air held a freshness – a hint that winter has passed. The snowdrops are well advanced now and the daffodils beginning to appear. Soon the banks will turn from white to yellow.


We walked back into the grounds of Dartington Hall – mentioned in a Royal Charter dated 833 AD, enjoying the buildings.


The long border has been prepared and heavily composted, looking forward to the new season’s growth.

(Images by Bill Whateley)