THE MOST senior scientist at a world-renowned conservation facility will quit his job amid fierce criticism of funding cuts.

The Kew Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) Millennium Seed Bank, at Wakehurst Place, near Ardingly, holds 1,980,405,036 seeds in storage as an “insurance policy” against the extinction of plants.

The aim of the project, pictured, is to have banked 25% of the world’s bankable seeds by 2020.

Dr Paul Smith played a pivotal role in launching the seed bank in 2000 and collecting seeds from all of the UK’s native species and 10% of flora worldwide.

He has decided to take voluntary redundancy and will leave his post in August.

This comes after more than 100,000 people signed a petition urging the government to reverse cuts to Kew’s funding.

The petition is supported by broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough.

Sir David said: “Kew has an absolutely crucial role in looking after our botanical heritage and our botanical future.

“The important thing to remember is that it is the premiere botanical gardens in the world scientifically.

“People who think it is just a place to go to look at pretty flowers and flower beds are mistaking the importance of Kew Gardens.”

He added that the seed bank is of world importance and should be supported by the government like a proper institution or university.

In 1983, 90% of funding for Kew came from the government. In 2014 it is below 40% and has been reduced by £0.5m a year since 2011.

Prospect, a trade union for scientists, said that Kew has already lost about 50 posts and that management plans to cut between 50 and 70 more.

Dr Smith said: “I leave with the knowledge that the work we are doing increases in relevance year by year.

“With every avoided extinction, we create options for the future and with every seed we sow, we create opportunities today.”

A spokeswoman for Kew said: “RBG Kew is currently restructuring, so we will be considering how best to replace Paul to ensure continued outstanding leadership for this vital science and conservation programme.”