MOSCOW—A unique collection of European fruit and berry crops could be destroyed after a court in Russia gave permission today for land at a research institute in St. Petersburg to be turned into a housing estate. Moscow's arbitration court rejected an appeal by the Pavlovsk Experiment Station—part of the N.I. Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry—to halt the takeover, meaning one of the two plots under threat could be auctioned off to property developers as early as 23 September.
Biodiversity experts have criticized the construction plans, saying they will devastate a priceless collection that cannot be moved in time. More than 90% of the station's 5000 plants—including almost 1000 varieties of strawberries and hundreds of strains of fruit and berries that are extinct in the wild—are thought to be unavailable elsewhere.
The Vavilov Institute issued a statement after today's ruling saying it would pursue a final appeal to the federal arbitration court over the 90 hectares of plots concerned, but campaigners have expressed little hope of victory. "To move the collection of fruits, berries, and ornamental plants would take at least 10 to 15 years," Fyodor Mikhovich, director of the research station, told Rosbalt news agency. "Nobody's going to wait that long to build houses [on the plots]. They'll want to do everything immediately."