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Seven islands in three weeks!

Pat Griggs
11 March 2011
Blog team: 
A team of island-hopping conservationists from Kew is spending three weeks in the British Virgin Islands, investigating the plant diversity of this Caribbean UK Overseas Territory.

Three members of Kew’s UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) team are on their way to the British Virgin Islands (BVI) in the Caribbean. Over the next three weeks they will be working with staff from the BVI National Parks Trust as they plan to visit seven of the 40 islands that make up this UKOT in order to collect plant specimens and assess the botanical diversity of some of the different sub-tropical habitats present in BVI.

BVI lies in the eastern Caribbean, nearly 100 km east of Puerto Rico.  Most of the islands arose from the sea as a result of volcanic activity, which produced steeply hilly landscapes. The islands were originally covered with dry evergreen forest, with areas of rainforest on some of the highest slopes. Botanists estimate that there are over 700 plant species native to BVI, which is situated within the Caribbean global biodiversity hotspot.


View from Jost van Dyke to Tortola (Image: RBG Kew)

During this expedition, the team (Colin, Sara and Martin) will visit the two islands with the largest human populations – Tortola and Virgin Gorda - and Jost van Dyke, which has just 300 inhabitants. They will also be carrying out botanical surveys on Prickly Pear and Fallen Jerusalem islands, which are protected National Parks and, hopefully, on some of the privately owned islands in the Territory. Visiting such a wide range of islands will allow the team to assess the vegetation in different habitats and under different levels of protection and to see plants found only on individual islands (endemics). Local partners, including the BVI National Parks Trust, will be fully involved in all the field activities.

This expedition follows up a project on the integration of national parks, education and community development (completed in 2003), which led to the publication of a Red List status report on the islands’ threatened plants. Data and specimens the team collects will be used to update this status report and to ensure that Kew’s collection of BVI pressed and dried plant specimens is as representative as possible of the islands’ vegetation to support future research and conservation assessments. The information will be added to the BVI section of the UKOTs’ Online Herbarium.

Looking towards Prickly Pear Island (to right of centre) from Virgin Gorda (Image: RBG Kew)

Sara is especially interested in plants associated with Walter Fishlock, a Kew gardener who joined the Agricultural Station on Tortola in the early twentieth century. She’ll be keeping an eye out for Croton fishlockii, a rare member of the Euphorbiaceae or spurge family. Colin is looking forward to visiting Fallen Jerusalem where he spotted a previously undiscovered population of Acacia anegadensis on an expedition in 2008. Before that trip, this spiny tree had only ever been found on the limestone island of Anegada, another of the BVI. For Martin, the opportunity to investigate the plants growing on Prickly Pear island is particularly exciting, as this island has never been explored by Kew botanists.

Acacia anegadensis in flower (Image: RBG Kew)

The challenges that global climate change will pose to conservation in BVI will be uppermost in the team’s mind as they discuss future activities with local project partners.

- Pat -

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