The potential devastation caused by a global catastrophe, such as a nuclear war or meteor strike, has led to the construction of a “Noah’s Ark” for the planet’s most important seeds.

Construction of the Svalbard International Seed Vault – on the Svalbard archipelago 620 miles south of the North Pole – began on Monday (20 June).

It will be carved 50m into the side of a mountain where temperatures are unlikely to rise above -3C (27F), even in the event of severe global warming.

Once operational, the vault will store more than three million species of plant to ensure the long-term survival of the world’s essential food crops.

Recent global conflicts have wiped out dozens of unique plant species, explained Cary Fowler, of the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

But it is not just wars that are a threat.

“Crop diversity is imperilled not just by a cataclysmic event, such as a nuclear war, but also by natural disaster, accidents, mismanagement and short-sighted budget cuts.”