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.
A view of the Centre Hills from the northern end of Montserrat (Image: Tom Heller, RBG Kew)
For its size (just 39 square miles), Montserrat (dubbed the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean) is home to a diverse flora of around 700 native species, many of which are found only on the islands of the Lesser Antilles, with three restricted to this one island. However, the natural vegetation of Montserrat faces a number of significant threats. Volcanic activity over the last 18 years has destroyed a third of the island’s forests under pyroclastic flows and ash fall and likely destroyed one of Monsterrat’s endemic plants, Xylosma serrata, which has not been seen since the volcanic eruptions.
The Soufriere Hills volcano continues to smoulder (Image: Tom Heller, RBG Kew)
To compound this, with the south of the island declared an exclusion zone, the remaining residents (though much reduced in number as more than half have taken refuge overseas) have only the northern third of the island in which to rebuild their lives and economy, creating enormous challenges for sustainable development.
Collecting seed next to a house buried by volcanic ash (Image: Tom Heller, RBG Kew)
In June, I made my second visit to the island, to work with forestry staff of the Department of Environment in collecting seed from native plant species. Over the course of two weeks, we visited a variety of habitat types in the hunt for plants of interest which produce fruits. Of greatest significance are the forests of the Centre Hills, an area of dense vegetation protected by law, with dry forest at the lower elevations giving way to wetter forest at higher altitudes, and so-called ‘elfin woodland’ of smaller shrubs and trees topping the summits, which are frequently shrouded in clouds.
The forestry team are an invaluable presence in the field. They know the forest better than anyone else, leading me up the steep, densely forested ridges and deep ghauts (a Caribbean term for river valleys). It was a good opportunity for me to pass on seed collecting techniques, which they will be able to use to continue with the work of gathering seed throughout the year.
Examples of plants we collected from are Pilocarpus racemosus, a member of the citrus family (Rutaceae) found only in a few islands of the Caribbean, which produces lobed fruit that split open to release its black seeds, not unlike the fruit of star anise.
Fruit of Pilocarpus racemosus, a member of the Citrus family (Image: Tom Heller, RBG Kew)
We found a number of shrubby plants from the family Melastomataceae, which produce small juicy berries with many tiny seeds which are dispersed by birds that find the fruit tasty. These included Miconia impetiolaris, which is found across the New World tropics, and Tetrazygia discolor, found only in the eastern Caribbean and whose black berries are held in bunches very similar in appearance to elderberries.
Miconia impetiolaris, found in the New World tropics (Image: Tom Heller, RBG Kew)
Some much larger seeds which we collected were those of Ormosia monosperma, a large tree in the legume family. Their bright red and black seeds fallen on the forest floor stood out amongst the leaf litter. Wolfgang Stuppy gives a fascinating account of the deceiving nature of such brightly coloured seeds in his blog post.
The seeds of Ormosia monosperma, adapted to get the attention of birds (Image: Tom Heller, RBG Kew)
This expedition was immediately followed by the beginning of an exciting new Darwin Initiative-funded project to extend the Millennium Seed Bank Partnerships’ conservation work to all of the Caribbean UK Overseas Territories: Montserrat, Turks and Caicos Islands, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and Anguilla. As well as enabling local collaborators to continue seed collecting across the region, the project will establish local seed banks so that the seed can be conserved in-country and at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank for the first time. Watch this space for future developments!
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For the last 9 months I have been interning with the UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) team on the UKOTs Red List project. It has been a chance to learn a lot about conservation work and also to experience all that the team and Kew have to offer. I have had the opportunity to assess the conservation status (Red List) of species from the Caribbean UKOTs alongside staff and other volunteers, as well as attend lectures and events for other projects at Kew. My time at Kew has given me insight not only into the conservation work that the UKOTs team does, but all the other work, such as horticulture and visitor interaction, that happens at Kew.
Jean Linsky displaying a herbarium specimen
Red Listing Caribbean Species
In my project I am using a newly developed Conservation Assessment Module (CAM) within BRAHMS to assess the conservation status of Cordia and Varronia (Boraginaceae) species in the Caribbean. This involves gathering information through a mix of digitising specimens from Kew’s herbarium collections and consulting collections already in the UKOTs Online Herbarium. I referred to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) for collections from other herbaria. To gather ecological information on each species, I researched information from regional floras and worked with experts from the UK Overseas Territories.
The geo-referencing (locating the specimen on a map, based on information about where it was collected) of each specimen record is key to assessing the range of each species and I was lucky enough to be able to expand on the work of two previous interns, Alex Roberts and Andrew Budden, and to use mapping resources created by them.
The plant specimen records in the CAM are linked to GeoCAT, an online GIS tool used to assess how widespread the plant is and how much land area it covers. These are two of the criteria used in the Red Listing process. Once all the data for the assessments is collected in the CAM and a Red List Category is assigned, they will be submitted to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species for addition to the list and can then be used for international conservation planning.
Cordia rickseckerii growing in Puerto Rico (Image: Martin Hamilton)
A big highlight for me has been interacting with collaborators from the Turks and Caicos Islands as well as Puerto Rico; getting their ‘in the field’ knowledge has been invaluable to my assessments. Also, my involvement in the development of the Conservation Assessment Module has given me insight into the process of data management in conservation, not just the final product of an assessment. The CAM is (and will continue to be) a very, very useful tool for plant conservation.
Jean working on conservation assessments with Bryan Naqqi Manco, a conservation specialist in TCI
Beyond the Internship
My time at Kew has not been confined to the Herbarium or my desk. The ‘family sorts’ (a term used by teams at Kew for the meetings to identify plants collected from the field) allowed some close-up time with plant specimens. There were also many lectures given by both staff and members of the Kew Mutual Improvement Society (KMIS), with talks on all kinds of subjects including trips to Western Australia and the ‘waggle dance’ performed by bees in the hive! The opportunity to be involved in testing the eMonocot Key to Monocot Plant Families was a great way to find out the type of work done by other teams at Kew.
I am grateful to the UKOTs team for the opportunity I have had at Kew, as well as for the massive amount of conservation knowledge I have gained from them. I am glad to have been able to be a part of the development and progress of this Red List Project and look forward to hearing all about the future work the team does.
- Jean -
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The world’s biodiversity is under threat and so conserving plants and animals has become a race against time. Although we are still discovering new species, we are losing biodiversity at an alarming rate. One of the most effective means of conserving biodiversity is by protecting habitats, and thereby the collections of species these habitats support. Consequently much of our effort is devoted to trying to identify the most important sites for biodiversity worldwide. One exciting project based in the Falkland Islands is trying to identify how the idea of a Protected Areas Network might best be applied in the Falklands context.
Managed by Clare Cockwell from Falklands Conservation, this ambitious three year project is funded by the UK Government under its Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP). In order to share experiences across the South Atlantic Region, Clare organised a regional workshop on Ascension in June 2013 and invited Kew and the RSPB to help her facilitate it.
Workshop delegates assemble outside the Red Lion Conference Centre
Delegates from the South Atlantic UKOTs
The workshop brought together a wide range of people working with, and interested in, Protected Areas. These included: landowners/farmers from the Falkland Islands who have been working with the OTEP project since its inception; conservation practitioners from Environment Departments in Ascension, Falklands and St Helena ; and conservation staff from the St Helena National Trust and Falklands Conservation. We were joined by several other Ascension Government delegates and had 30 people participating in a lively series of overview talks, discussion groups, field trips and role play activities.
Small group discussions in full flow in the Red Lion
The workshop was held in the newly renovated Red Lion conference centre which lies within Green Mountain National Park, Ascension’s only current National Park. This was the first international workshop to be held at the Red Lion, which also houses the office of the National Park Warden, Stedson Stroud. The facilities were excellent and we are happy to promote this as a great international venue.
The renovated Red Lion building provided the workshop venue
In the field
As a result of recent restoration efforts by the Ascension Island Government Conservation team, the paths around Green Mountain have been cleared and are now easily passable. These provided great access to the mountain’s biodiversity hotspots which were ideal teaching venues. We were able to get out and discuss issues associated with biodiversity conservation, establishing protected areas, monitoring different taxa, and how these issues apply to other Territories across the Region.
Working out the best way to monitor epiphytic plants
Developing monitoring activities
One of the workshop’s objectives was to explore a cross-territory strategy for monitoring protected areas and there was lots of support for the general principle and for the value of maintaining the links developed during this workshop. We were able to get a perspective on each Territory's current monitoring activities although, unfortunately, no delegates from Tristan da Cunha were able to attend the workshop.
We heard about the system of Protected Areas being proposed for Ascension and the legislation being drawn up to enable this, all under the auspices of the current Darwin Initiative funded project ‘Implementing a Darwin Initiative Biodiversity Action Plan for Ascension Island ’ in which Kew and the RSPB are also partners. We heard about the recently designated Nature Conservation Areas in St Helena and the management plans being written for them. We also heard about the way the Falklands are approaching protected areas with a stakeholder-driven approach. This is a critical time for this region, for its biodiversity and the challenge of providing sufficient resources to a dedicated set of people who are committed to conserving it!
And of course Ascension shared some of its unique biodiversity with us: nesting and hatching green turtles; recently discovered endemic bryophytes; and spawning land crabs. Among the stories of hope were the Ascension Island parsley fern (Anogramma ascensionis), an endemic vascular plant on the edge of extinction in the wild, but secure in cultivation, and Ascension frigate birds finally returning to nest and fledge a chick on the mainland 7 years after the successful feral cat eradication programme.
So much on one small island worth protecting, and so many of these jewels of the South Atlantic in need of protection – we must continue to work closely together to identify the key biodiversity sites and ensure the resources needed are made available to stop the loss of UKOT biodiversity.
Green Mountain National Park
A support network
After the completion of this enormously successful workshop, delegates returned home fired with enthusiasm and with a new set of friends who are facing similar challenges and who are now friendly faces at the end of an email ready to share an idea or offer a thought. Hopefully they feel a little less alone in their conservation battles.
Thanks to Clare for excellent organisation and Ben for keeping everyone fed so well; to OTEP for funding the bulk of the workshop (other funding support from Ascension Island Government (AIG), Falkland Islands Government, St Helena Government, Falklands Conservation, RSPB and Kew); to AIG Administrator, Colin Wells for continued support; to our Ascension hosts for great facilities and wildlife experiences; and to the participants and my fellow facilitators for providing such a stimulating environment and a sense of camaraderie and hope for the future.
- Colin -
Find out more about some of Kew's activities in the South Atlantic UKOTs
- Falkland Islands native plants project
- Impacts of climate change on terrestrial ecosystems of the Falkland Islands
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Cacti and other distinctive plants grow in the species-rich, dry scrubland of several Caribbean UKOTs (Image: Martin Hamilton)
In October 2011, the UKOTs team at RBG Kew embarked on a project to determine the conservation status of UKOTs' plant species. Put simply, we want to be able to find out which of the plants that occur in the UKOTs are the most threatened and, therefore, closer to extinction. It is an ambitious project but essential to help us and our colleagues from these territories to prioritise conservation action. Also, these assessments will be submitted to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which covers plants, animals and fungi. We want to raise awareness of the uniqueness of UKOTs plant species and that, unless we actively protect them, we might lose them in the near future!
How can we decide if a species is threatened or not?
We use the data we’ve previously put together on the UKOTs Online Herbarium for plants native to the UKOTs. This includes important information such as geographical distribution of species. We start by digitising specimens held at Kew of those plants collected from neighbouring islands. Andrew Budden described this work in his post "Investigating the plants of the Caribbean... on the outskirts of London!" Then we look for more herbarium specimens held in other botanical institutions, using online databases such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and for all information available online, in books and journals. Kew’s Library, Art & Archives is a great resource to have in the same building! Finally, we put all the information together and decide on a Red List category following the IUCN rules for Red Listing. Sounds an easy task but the entire process can take quite some time!
As scientists we like to use methods which help us to standardise data analysis and make it more comparable. We are using a tool called GeoCAT (geospatial conservation assessment tool). This web-based tool uses specimen or observation data to calculate the area and extent of occurrence of our species, and to provide a preliminary assessment based on geographic measures used in the Red List criteria. In order to track all the specimens and information used to assign a Red List category, we are helping to develop a new module of BRAHMS (Botanical Research and Herbarium Management System), which we already use to hold the data for the UKOTs Online Herbarium. This module is called the Conservation Assessment Module (CAM) and it will soon be fully functional.
Conservation Assessment Module
A task as big as this cannot be achieved alone. Even taking into consideration all information that we hold in Kew’s Herbarium, collaboration with our colleagues from the Overseas Territories is essential.
Jean Linsky and Alex Roberts, both UKOTs Red Listing Interns, working on conservation assessments with Brian Naqqi Manco
A couple of weeks ago, our colleague from the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), Brian Naqqi Manco, joined us for a week in order to review the assessments that Alex, Jean and myself had prepared. He added more points to the species maps and also pointed out threats that we hadn’t figured out through literature research. It was an intense week but we managed to complete IUCN assessments for 14 plant species native to TCI, some of which we classified as Endangered.
For example, we assessed one of the species that we found when we travelled to TCI in 2010. Spermacoce capillaris is a small shrub from the coffee family which is threatened by habitat modification. According to our assessment it is an Endangered species. These assessments are now ready for submission to IUCN. We will continue with our project and keep you updated.
The UKOTs Red List Project is being funded by the Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP), jointly managed by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development.
- Sara Bárrios -
- UKOTs Online Herbarium
- Launching the UKOTs Online Herbarium
- Kew Herbarium
- IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
- Plants at Risk
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Workshop day 3
We’ve now completed two days of the workshop and it feels like we are building good teamwork and making progress in developing the plant collections. Everyone attending the workshop is involved with Ascension Island Government (AIG) Conservation work of some kind (not all are 'plant people’, but all are willing to learn and help).
Although I’ve given presentations on germination and cultivation protocols, seed collecting and composting, most of our time has been spent on practical activities in the nursery on Green Mountain. We’ve managed to repair the shade houses, started composting areas, and collected plant specimens to press as herbarium vouchers and as samples for DNA extraction. We've also made some seed collections which will be used for germination trials tomorrow. Cynthia Williams from the Falkland Islands and Vanessa Thomas from St Helena have been great, contributing their wealth of experience of native plant propagation.
Transferring fern plantlets to compost
Working in the nursery on Green Mountain
While I’ve been here, it’s been nice and warm and I am not missing the UK weather at all!!! Green turtles are nesting too which is very exciting! Over 100 turtles make their way onto the beach to lay eggs every night. If I am lucky some of the early eggs will hatch and young turtles will emerge before I leave!
Workshop day 5
Yesterday was the last day of the formal workshop. It all went well; everyone reported back that it was good and mentioned the parts that were the most useful and relevant to them. The Ascension Conservation team have set their priorities and there were many good outcomes which they have decided to implement, including data collection in the field, labelling and accessioning systems for cultivated plants, and several display gardens of endemics and native species for tourists and other visitors.
Workshop participants included staff from the Ascension Island Government conservation team and representatives from various conservation projects
They’ve also decided to create two areas for composting and to use this compost in the nursery, reducing their reliance on imported materials. The herbarium specimens we made will become part of a reference library at the conservation office (once a cabinet with suitable conditions is available).
Cynthia has just flown out this morning to go back to the Falkland Islands. She was of great value to the team sharing her experience. I know that she will be keeping in touch exchanging ideas and knowledge. Cynthia felt she benefited a lot from the sessions on fern propagation techniques, as she has a couple of ferns in the Falklands nursery which she has not been able to grow from spores yet.
I’ll be spending the rest of my time here assisting the team in implementing the workshop outcomes. Vanessa will also be working with the team; she has lots of experience in running the endemic plant nursery on St Helena. On my last day, Stedson Stroud (the AIG Conservation Officer), Jolene Sim and I are planning to collect living plant specimens for me to take back to Kew for further cultivation trials.
On Saturday afternoon, we’ll be encouraging the public to get involved with gardening and find out about Kew and the conservation projects. There will be seed-sowing activities for children while adults can build compost bins and learn how to grow healthy plants.
I’m also hoping to spend some more time at night watching the turtles coming onto the beach to lay eggs. I’ve never seen this before and it's a truly amazing experience!
Green turtle returning to the sea after nesting
- Marcella -
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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)
Modelling the distributions of Falkland Island plants, part one - disentangling datasets: well structured to aid understanding. by: Anon
Modelling the distributions of Falkland Island plants, part one - disentangling datasets: Fascinating, readable and informative resume.. by: Margaret Carr
Seed conservation in the Caribbean UK Overseas Territories: An excellent project bringing together UKOTs partners from across the Caribbean. I am working in BVI ... by: Martin
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