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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.

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Insects and invasives: investigating threats to Turks and Caicos Islands plants

By: Martin Hamilton - 03 Aug 2011
The native plants of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) are under increasing threat from plants and animals that have been introduced to these Caribbean Islands in recent years.  In an effort to understand the biology of the invasive species, a team of Kew botanists and conservationists spent three weeks studying them and investigating the problems they cause.
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One of the goals of the expedition was to  assess effects of the pine scale insect (Tourmeyella parvicornis), which has all but wiped out the national tree of TCI, Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis.

Fieldwork among the dead pine trees

Pine scale insect is killing the pine trees on TCI

This tree grows in both TCI and the Bahamas; however, in the Bahamas the scale insect does not cause major problems at present. Martin Hamilton and Paul Green (RBG, Kew) began by visiting the islands of Abaco and New Providence in the Bahamas to collect pine chemical extractions and pine insect pest samples for identification.

Collecting pine samples

Collecting pine samples in the Bahamas

Martin and Paul then travelled to TCI to meet Marcella Corcoran (RBG, Kew), Sara Green, and Alexandra Davey (Imperial College Conservation Science MSc students).

In the Bahamas the team worked in collaboration with staff from Bahamas National Trust (BNT) in the field and provided practical experience and hands-on training for relevant staff. In TCI, the team continued with its collaboration with the Department for Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR) to record, monitor and conserve the flora of TCI, and continue activities related to the Caicos Pine Recovery Project (CPRP).

We know that from previous chemical analyses of dried pine-needle samples that there are different chemicals in extracts of healthy and insect-infested pine. It became clear that extracts of fresh material would be needed for comparison. In the Bahamas samples were collected from healthy trees, and from trees stressed by salt-water flooding and fire. TCI samples were collected from trees with very varied levels of pine scale insect infestations. These will enable us to look for differences in chemistry resulting from various stresses and insect infestation. We can speculate that there is a link between the level of stress to which the trees are exposed and their susceptibility to insect attack.

Preparing extracts of pine needles

Preparing extracts of pine needles

The extracts prepared during this trip will be analysed in the laboratories of the Sustainable Uses of Plants Group (Jodrell Laboratory, RBG, Kew). These analyses will allow us to look at differences in the compounds present in the healthy, healthy and fire damaged, and stressed trees. With additional pine-needle extracts prepared in TCI, we will be able to compare the extracts of Bahaman pines with TCI pines suffering from severe insect infestation. Chemical differences could explain why the TCI pines are severely infested with insects, while it is difficult to find insects in significant number on the pines on Abaco. The pines on New Providence are exposed to environmental stress and they also show frequent insect damage which does not appear to significantly affect the health of the trees at the moment.

MSc student investigating casuarina thicket

Getting to grips with Casuarina invading the beaches 

In addition to this work the two students from Imperial College MSc carried out research for their MSc dissertations. Sara Green collected data for the second year of a project recording a series of permanent monitoring plots in the TCI pine forests to assist the CPRP. She also monitored other species growing within the pine yards. Alexandra Davey started her project to map the invasive plant Casuarina equisetifolia and recommend areas for control of the species and assess its potential use as a charcoal source.

- Martin -


Related links

Plant-Insect Interactions

Turks and Caicos Islands Online Herbarium

Kew's UK Overseas Territories programme

The unique plants of the Turks and Caicos Islands

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Supporting the conservation of Bermuda's native plants

By: Shayla Ellick - 01 Jul 2011
Using Kew's historic botanical specimens, Shayla Ellick has spent a undergraduate sandwich-placement year finding out about the 600 plant species found on the UK Overseas Territory(UKOT) of Bermuda.  Combining digital high resolution images of the preserved plant specimens with information about the plants gathered from Kew's libraries and online botanical databases, she has added over 700 specimens to the UKOTs' Online Herbarium, to provide an invaluable conservation resource for the island.
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I'm originally from the UK Overseas Territory (UKOT) of St Helena Island in the South Atlantic and I’m studying BSc (Hons) Environmental Management at the University of Hertfordshire. My course offered the chance to undertake a sandwich placement year which allows students to gain valuable skills and work experience. My placement was with Kew’s UKOTs team (perfect for me!) working on the Online Herbarium project.

Shayla scanning herbarium specimen

Shayla scanning a herbarium specimen

The majority of the 16 UKOTs lack a complete inventory of plant species, which hinders conservation activities as, in order to conserve a Territory's species effectively, we have to know what grows there.  Additionally, the baseline taxonomic information used is outdated; for instance, some plants are known by more than one name.  One of these names for each species is now officially accepted by botanists, but other names (known as synonyms) are sometimes still incorrectly used as accepted names in Territory. To resolve these problems, Kew's UKOTs team, under Targets 1 and 2 of the 2010 Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, is developing a UKOTs' Online Herbarium.  This will allow conservationists within Territories to access a virtual herbarium comprising high quality images of geo-referenced and digitised Herbarium specimens from the collection at Kew along with associated data from labels and collector's field notes.  Crucially, this herbarium provides up-to-date information on taxonomy and conservation status of plant species.

My project was specifically focussed on researching, compiling and providing the data for the Territory of Bermuda. The majority of the project has entailed digitising all Bermudian specimens held at Kew (for publication on the UKOTs Online Herbarium).  This has included:

  • Compiling a gazetteer in BRAHMS of Bermudian place names and equivalent co-ordinates using maps to generate place names and Google Earth for the co-ordinates. The completed gazetteer has more than 500 entries. 

Gazetteer of Bermuda

Gazetteer map of Bermuda, showing place names

  • Checking taxonomy of a supplied list of over 600 known plant species that occur in Bermuda (including synonyms) using The Plant List and other botanical databases, the names were checked for validity and synonymy etc.  The list now has 701 entries, including synonyms.

 Shayla finding herbarium specimens

Finding herbarium specimens collected in Bermuda

  • Searching for each species on the list (including the synonyms) within the Herbarium cupboards and collecting any Bermudian specimens, these specimens were then given barcodes and UKOTs labels.
  • All information on the specimens was databased in BRAHMS and the specimens were geo-referenced using the gazetteer I created. Finally each specimen was scanned using Adobe PhotoShop™ and HerbScan™ (a scanning system developed at Kew) to produce high resolution images for the Online Herbarium. In all, I digitised almost 700 specimens!

After I completed digitising the specimens, I then populated the Bermuda species list with relevant information such as species distribution (global and local), description and uses, from relevant journals, floras, field guides, checklists, botanical databases and internet botanical databases, floras and field guides. All of this information will also be uploaded to the Bermuda section of the Online Herbarium.  I also researched and compiled a history of botanical collecting in Bermuda using JSTOR Plant Science, the Harvard Index of Botanists  and a wide range of printed literature.

In addition the placement offered fantastic benefits such as:

  • training opportunities in a range of areas e.g. IUCN Redlisting; collecting specimens in the field to make herbarium vouchers,

Preparing herbarium specimens

Preparing herbarium specimens for pressing

  • access to incredibly interesting lectures and seminars by experts from Kew and other organisations,
  • learning and improving upon valuable skills particularly relevant for the conservation field, and also improving and gaining personal and transferrable skills,
  • improving my knowledge about international conservation policies and conventions and how they work and many more!

I’ve really enjoyed my placement year at Kew; it’s such a relaxed atmosphere to work in which makes it really easy to learn! The people are amazing, everyone’s always willing to help out and answer any question you have no matter how silly it might seem to you. It’s very encouraging when a specialist/expert will take time out of their extremely busy schedule to talk to you! I’ve learned so much during my time here which will be invaluable in the future, both for my final year at university and future employment. I’ve also made some lifelong friends, and gained many valuable contacts that will be extremely useful in the coming years! In addition I also got the opportunity to contribute to a real and important conservation project, which has given me a great sense of pride and satisfaction. Working at Kew has helped me find perspective on the area I’d like to work in, and I would come back here to work at any time if they would have me (or maybe just for extra training experience to take back to St Helena with me)! 


Related links

UKOTs Online Herbarium

Bermuda - UKOTs Online Herbarium

UK Overseas Territories Programme at Kew

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Restoring cleared minefields in the Falkland Islands

By: Colin Clubbe - 20 Apr 2011
Restoring native vegetation on cleared minefield sites is just one of the many challenges facing conservationists in the Falkland Islands.
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A member of Kew's UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) team, I am currently in the Falkland Islands for two weeks working with the Falkland Islands Government and local NGO, Falklands Conservation.

Colin Clubbe - Falkland Islands May 2011

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

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 grass reintroduction

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 blue grass tillers

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.

Seed broadcasting

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 restoration sign

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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Pitcairn plant flowers at Kew

By: Marcella Corcoran - 13 Apr 2011
Although extinct in the wild, Abutilon pitcairnense from Pitcairn has just flowered at Kew Gardens for the first time.
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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

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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Finding thriving specimens of a rare Caribbean shrub

By: Sara, Colin and Martin - 17 Mar 2011
Kew conservationists are thrilled to have identified a rare shrub at several previously unknown sites on Virgin Gorda in the Caribbean.
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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.

Identifying Crton fishlockii

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 a new population of Croton fishlockii

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

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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About us

UKOTs blog team sitting around the table

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)  

If you would like to publish material from this blog in a separate publication, please get in touch with Kew’s Press Office at See our full Terms & Conditions here.

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