UK Overseas Territories team blog
Kew’s UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) team helps to conserve the unique biodiversity of the 16 far-flung island groups and peninsulas which make up the UKOTs.
We work with partners in-Territory and from other UK biodiversity organisations to develop and implement practical conservation projects which support the UKOTs in implementing the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. This blog follows the conservation activities of the UKOTs team at Kew and overseas. Our welcome blog post gives an overview of the UKOTs Programme.
Colin experiences the cold autumn weather in the Falkland Islands (Image: RBG Kew)
Although my prime reason for being here is to facilitate next week’s workshop to review the Falkland Islands Biodiversity Strategy , I’m spending this week reviewing some of the plant conservation activity currently underway.
Yesterday I accompanied Falklands Conservation Plants Officer, Rebecca Upson, on a monitoring trip to Surf Bay a few kilometres east of Stanley, Falkland’s capital. The UK has ratified the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, often referred to as the ‘Ottawa Convention’. Article 5 of the Convention commits Parties to mine clearance on their sovereign territory and in response to this commitment the UK Government has undertaken clearance at four pilot sites in the Falkland Islands. One of these is the Surf Bay site.
Minefield on the Falkland Islands (Image: RBG Kew)
Mine clearance of the Surf Bay site was completed in June 2010. The Environmental Planning Department and Falklands Conservation co-ordinated a trial re-planting of the site, supported by lots of volunteers who turned out for two planting sessions, one in June and the second in October 2010. Tillers of tussac grass (Poa flabellata) were used in one area. Coastal tussac is a hugely important habitat for wildlife and one that has suffered very badly in the past from over-grazing by sheep. Restoration of coastal tussac is a major conservation priority for the Falkland Islands. This restoration site is looking really healthy and all the signs are that tussac responds very well to this type of restoration.
Tussac grassland restoration site (Image: RBG Kew)
A second coastal area has been planted up with the native blue grass (Poa alopecurus) and many of the tillers have more than doubled in size since the June plantings which is very encouraging.
Rebecca Upson measuring bluegrass tillers (Image: RBG Kew)
Bluegrass Dune Grassland is also a priority habitat in the Falkland Islands. Although its status is not fully known, current evidence suggests that it has also declined significantly due to grazing pressure.
The inland part of the site that was originally Diddle-dee (Empetrum rubrum) dominated dwarf shrub heath has been divided into experimental blocks to investigate the success of seed broadcast as a restoration technique. The seed broadcast mix comprised three key native species - buttonwood (Leptinella scariosa), pig vine (Gunnera magellanica) and native rush (Juncus scheuchzerioides) - together with sheep’s sorrel (Rumex acetosella), an introduced species which helps to stabilise exposed peat. In some blocks this seed mix was broadcast directly onto the exposed sandy soil, in others the plant material removed during mine-clearance was replaced and the seed mix broadcast over this. Some control blocks were included where no seed was broadcast to see what would happen naturally without any conservation intervention. Although too early to see any real differences between these treatments, there are good signs of growth and establishment of native species which provides great encouragement that this type of restoration approach can be successful. Seed broadcasting as a technique is much less labour intensive than planting individual plants and, when resources are in short supply, any technique which is less resource-intensive has huge advantages. I think that a key need is to start the replanting as soon after mine clearance as possible; with the high frequency of strong winds in the Falkland Islands, it is vital to try and stabilise the substrate as quickly as possible to prevent erosion.
Minefield clearance offers opportunities for restoration of vanishing habitats (Image: RBG Kew)
The team in the Falkland Islands is really dedicated and with continued support not only can the UK meet its landmine clearance commitments in the next ten years, but this pilot gives every indication that these sites can be reclaimed for native habitats – successful conservation practice in action – inspirational.
- Colin -
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For the first time, Abutilon pitcairnense, unique to Pitcairn Island has flowered at Kew in the Tropical Nursery. The Pitcairn Island group is found in the South Central Pacific and is one of the 16 UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs).
Abutilon pitcairnense at Kew Gardens (Image: RBG Kew)
Thought to be extinct, in 2003 a single plant of Abutilon pitcairnense was re-discovered by local Islander Carol Warren and its identification confirmed by two botanists from Trinity College Botanic Gardens, Dublin. Propagation material (cuttings and seed) were collected from this plant and grown in the island's nursery. By 2004 there were seven successful germinations and several rooted cuttings in Pitcairn.
In 2003 Dr. Noeleen Smyth brought some of the newly rooted cutting material from Pitcairn back to Trinity College Botanic Gardens, Dublin. The species was then secure in ex-situ collections. Unfortunately, in January 2005, a landslide destroyed the only wild plant found and the species became extinct in the wild. Ironically, around the same time the material bought back to Trinity College Dublin flowered for the first time outside of Pitcairn.
Further cuttings were taken from the Trinity collection in 2007 and brought to the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland, Glasnevin. These cuttings flowered in the glasshouse at Glasnevin for the first time in January 2010. Cuttings from these plants came to Kew Gardens in January 2010.
From this material, which was only a few centimetres long, plants grew to a height of two metres within ten months and finally flowered in the March of this year (2011). This is just one of the many species from the UKOTs which are growing and flowering here at Kew as part of our conservation programme to germinate and cultivate threatened species from the Territories.
- Marcela -
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Last week, we departed for fieldwork in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), a UK Overseas Territory in the Caribbean. Here's what we've been up to since our arrival:
After two days on Tortola meeting and planning with our project partners, the BVI National Parks Trust, we relocated to Virgin Gorda, a short ferry ride from Tortola’s Road Town Harbour. Virgin Gorda is visited by many tourists for its beautiful beaches and sailing opportunities, but we are attracted by its unique flora.
Sara and Colin confirming the identity of Croton fishlockii (Image: RBG Kew)
Our first task has been to try and evaluate the status of Virgin Gorda’s special plants. Gorda Peak National Park is home to the island's top five plants - Zanthoxylum thomasianum, Machaonia woodburyana, Calyptranthes thomasiana, Calyptranthes kiaerskovii and Croton fishlockii. Three full days of collecting data in the beating sun, have provided us with a good impression of how these unique species are doing.
Much of today has focused on Croton fishlockii, a small hairy shrub in the Euphorbiaceae family known only from the Virgin Islands, including some of the BVI and and St John (US Virgin Islands). First collected by Walter Charles Fishlock in 1919, Croton fishlockii was described as a new species by Fishlock's colleague, Nathaniel Lord Britton, who named it after him. Fishlock was a Kew gardener working at the Agricultural Station on Tortola, now the site of the J.R. O’Neal Botanic Garden, managed by the BVI National Parks Trust.
Recording the details of a newly discovered population of Croton fishlockii (Image: RBG Kew)
Before this trip, Croton fishlockii was only known from one location on the edge of Gorda Peak National Park. After today’s work we are pleased to report that Croton fishlockii is more widespread than we thought. We found it in several locations growing on exposed hillsides.
Croton fishlockii in flower (Image: RBG Kew)
We collected herbarium specimens today in order to compare with Fishlock’s original 1919 type specimen, still preserved in Kew’s Herbarium collection. We discussed the need to get the plant into cultivation, where it will receive additional protection in case anything should happen to the wild plants. As this is the dry season and not a good time to take cuttings, this will have to wait for a future trip.
- Sara, Colin and Martin -
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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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Introducing the Falkland Islands
The Falkland Islands are one of the UK Overseas Territories, located in the South Atlantic Ocean, almost 500 km to the east of South America. They have about 170 different species of native plants, 13 of them found nowhere else in the world. The native plant propagation initiative will encourage gardeners and horticulturists on the island to grow their own unique plants rather than relying on exotic ornamental species. In the past, introduced garden plants have sometimes become invasive, threatening the islands’ natural vegetation. Kew’s UK Overseas Territories team works with Falklands Conservation and other partners, studying the vegetation and investigating the threats it faces, particularly from invasive plants and from grazing animals.
Conserving plant life
Kit Strange, who works within Kew’s Hardy Display Section, has recently returned from the Falkland Islands, where she worked with partners from Falklands Conservation on the continuing development of a collection of native plants. These will then be available for sale to island gardeners via the Stanley Growers Garden Centre. Here are some excerpts from the programme of activities whilst she was there:
"Today I worked with Cynthia Williams at Stanley Growers Nursery to prick out some seedlings that have germinated since she sowed the last batch of seed from the Millennium Seed Bank. These included Falkland woolly ragwort (Senecio littoralis), button weed (Leptinella scariosa), wild celery (Apium australe), marsh daisy (Symphiotrichum vahlii), Falkland rock cress (Phlebolobium maclovianum), Moore’s plantain (Plantago moorei) and prickly burr (Acaena magellanica). They were all quite big plants already.
Falklands woolly ragwort seedlings (Image: RBG Kew)
"Yesterday, Cynthia and I looked at some of the plants which are more difficult to germinate. We sowed some primula seed (Primula magellanica), which needs light to germinate, so we put a piece of glass on the top of the tray to let light through whilst keeping the seeds moist. For the fern spores, we used pine-needles to increase the soil acidity and keep the roots cool.
After sowing, tall fern (Blechnum magellanicum) spores are covered with pine needles (front right). The round pot contains seeds of Viola maculata which is already much in demand from island gardeners. (Image: RBG Kew)
"We also collected seed from emerald bog (Colobanthus subulatus). This is a particularly difficult seed to collect – we had to use tweezers. Last week, we potted up 100 cuttings of fachine (Chiliotrichum diffusum) and a hundred of Christmas bush (Baccharis magellanica).
The painstaking process of collecting seed of Colobanthus subulatus (Image: RBG Kew)
"While I’m here, I am giving a science lesson at the school and a talk to the Falklands’ Horticultural Society about growing the native and endemic species. Rebecca Upson from Falklands Conservation is also taking me to Mount Challenger to get some shield fern (Polystichum mohrioides) so that we can try growing this from spores. This shield fern is only found on the Falkland Islands and South Georgia (another UK Overseas Territory)."
- Pat -
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Keep up to date with events and news from Kew
UKOTs bloggers (left to right): Sara Bárrios, Pat Griggs, Colin Clubbe, Marcella Corcoran, Tom Heller, Martin Hamilton.
Using modern plant specimens collected in the field and historic specimens held in Kew’s Herbarium, together with detailed habitat descriptions and other field information, we are documenting the plant diversity of the UKOTs. We are making this information accessible via the UKOTs Online Herbarium. This resource, together with the field research, enables us to undertake conservation assessments, produce Red Lists of threatened species, and rank potentially invasive species – all of which underpin the development of management plans to protect the UKOTs’ plant heritage.
The UKOTs bloggers are:
- Colin Clubbe (Head of UKOTs and Conservation Training)
- Martin Hamilton (UKOTs Programme Co-ordinator)
- Marcella Corcoran (UKOTs Programme Officer – Horticultural Liaison)
- Sara Bárrios (UKOTs Programme Officer – GSPC Targets 1&2 OTEP Project)
- Pat Griggs (UKOTs Public Engagement Officer)
- Tom Heller (UKOTs Millennium Seed Bank Officer)
Investigating the plants of the Caribbean... on the outskirts of London!: Dear Andrew, I was very interested in reading your blog. As part of a project I am working on I ... by: eva
Tackling a spiny threat in the Falkland Islands: Really great to see the community involved in the invasive species control work. Keep up the battle!. by: Martin
Working together to cultivate and protect Ascension's unique plants: It’s certainly an amazing place. We use John Packer’s survey as the basic reference for much of our ... by: The UKOTs team
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