Fears are growing over the future of endangered plants after the boss of the Millennium Seed Bank quit.

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Under the leadership of Dr Paul Smith, the seed bank was on track to achieve its target of safeguarding 25 per cent of the world’s preservable seeds by 2020.

Staff at the bank, which sits next to Wakehurst Place gardens in west Sussex, were reported to be in shock when it was announced that Dr Smith was leaving.

He had been with Kew, which runs the seed bank and Wakehurst Place gardens, for 18 years; spending the last 15 years masterminding the biggest conservation project in the world of horticulture.

Kew, which is cutting 125 jobs across its interests (AG, 27 September), in a bid to plug a £5million hole in its finances, said Dr Smith had taken voluntary redundancy.

But a staff member told the Mid Sussex Times: “Everybody is devastated about Paul leaving. You could hear a pin drop after we were told.

“We’re all wondering what is going to happen to the bank. For Paul to go must mean they’re going to split it up”

A Kew spokeswoman told AG: “The science [redundancy] consultation has just begun and I cannot give firm figures of job losses at the Seed Bank. It will continue to be one of Kew’s success stories under a new science structure.”

In a statement released by Kew, Dr Smith said: “It has been a privilege to work with so many talented people.

“I leave with the knowledge that the work we are doing increases in relevance every year. With every avoided extinction, we create options for the future, and with every seed we sow, we create opportunities today.”

Kew director Richard Deverell added: “Our commitment to banking 25 per cent of the world’s flowering plants and fulfilling the existing portfolio of science and conservation projects is undiminished.”