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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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UKOTs Programme achieves herbarium specimen digitisation milestone

By: Martin Hamilton - 21 Dec 2010
Martin Hamilton from Kew's UK Overseas Territories team reports on the latest news about the UKOTs Programme specimen digitisation activities.
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This month the team surpassed the 10,000th scan of herbarium specimens! This is a major achievement for all staff and volunteers involved and makes a significant contribution to Kew's aims.

One of the major tasks that our volunteers have undertaken is the scanning of historic herbarium specimens held at Kew from the UK Overseas Territories. These plant specimens are scanned so the images can be made available electronically along with the data from the specimen labels (collectively known as specimen digitisation). Once digitised, the specimen data is added to the UKOTs Online Herbarium.  This archive allows UKOTs partners and other conservation scientists around the world to access Kew's historical reference collections.

UKOTs volunteers scanning herbarium specimens and detail of a herbarium specimen 

Left: UKOTs volunteers scanning herbarium specimens; Right: detail of a herbarium specimen. (Image: RBG Kew)

The UKOTs Programme Volunteers started in August 2005 with a few dedicated people coming to volunteer on Wednesday evenings after finishing work in the Gardens. This small group consisted of members of horticulture staff and students that wanted to assist the UKOTs Programme and learn about the Herbarium in the process. Over the past 5 years, volunteering has expanded from that original weekly meeting of staff, to a group that includes many daytime volunteers – some of them giving 3 days per week!

UKOTs team 2010

UKOTs team and volunteers visiting Wakehurst (Image: RBG Kew) 

We would like to extend our thanks to everyone who has been involved in the UKOTs Programme over the past 5 years, in particular for all their hard work and commitment.

- Martin -

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UKOTs Programme 2010 Internships

By: Martin Hamilton - 15 Dec 2010
Martin Hamilton from Kew's UK Overseas Territories team reports on the latest news about the UKOTs Programme 2010 Internships.
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The UKOTs Programme offers internships annually. The successful 2010 candidates were Ji Luo Francis, Natalia de la Torre and Luc Clerveaux (a Turks and Caicos Islander - one of the UKOTs - currently studying in the UK).

One of the major tasks that the interns undertook was specimen digitisation. This involves scanning historic herbarium specimens and recording specimen label data into the Plants of UK Overseas Territories Database. The specimen data are being added to the UKOTs on-line Herbariumto enable access to the Kew collections from the UK Overseas Territories. Interns also undertake research on key species from the Overseas Territories.

Ji Francis Luo and Natalia de la Torre working with herbarium specimens

Ji Luo Francis and Natalia de la Torre working on herbarium specimens (Image: RBG Kew)

Natalia tells us about her experience:

This internship has been a fantastic experience. Working in one of the most important and biggest botanical gardens in the world and being surrounded by millions of plant specimens every day has made me realise how important it is to try to protect and preserve habitats and ecosystems. After six months here I now have clear that this is what I want to keep doing.

Sara Barrios from the UKOTs team at Kew adds:

" Ji, Natalia and Luc gave a great contribution to our team this year. All specimens from the Pitcairn Islands, Gibraltar and the Turks and Caicos Islands are now almost fully digitised."

The 2011 UKOTs internships will be advertised in the early new year. Details will be posted on the Kew website.

- Martin -


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The unique plants of the Turks and Caicos Islands

By: Sara Barrios - 26 Nov 2010
Find out more about plants that can only be found in the beautiful Caribbean UK Overseas Territory (UKOT) of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
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As part of a three week field trip to the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), Martin, Marcella, Tom and I, together with local partners from the Department of Environment and Coastal Resources in TCI, had the opportunity to visit the island of East Caicos.

East Caicos is situated in the Caicos bank between Middle and South Caicos. Most of the island was converted into a sisal plantation, but has been uninhabited since the beginning of the 20th century. Access to the island can only be made by sea, so we had to pack all our field equipment in waterproof bags before jumping out of Mr. Arthur’s boat and walking to reach dry land.

Photo of Kew staff landing on East Caicos

Landing on East Caicos island (Image: RBG Kew)

The effort was well compensated! Cutting through the abandoned donkey railway line, we found three of the endemic plants of TCI, which had never been recorded on the island of East Caicos. Limonium bahamense, Spermacoce capillaris, and Stenandrium carolinae are three of the plants that can only be found in TCI and nowhere else on earth.

UKOTs staff pressing the endemic Limonium bahamense

Collecting and pressing Limonium bahamense (Image: RBG Kew)


These plants grow in very specific places. Limonium bahamense is locally known as island heather and is the national flower of TCI. This species is found growing in the often barren salt flats of TCI. Spermacoce capillaris appears in between the limestone, also with poor availability of water and exposed to high temperatures. And the small Stenandrium carolinae, grows on the edges of ridges, in between rocks that catch some soil.

Spermacoce capillaris, endemic plant to the Turks and Caicos IslandStenandrium carolinae, endemic plant to the Turks and Caicos Islands

Spermacoce capillaris and Stenandrium carolinae (Image: RBG Kew)       

The plant specimens and seeds collected in East Caicos have now arrived at Kew. Now it’s time to confirm their names, using our herbarium collection as a reference. Soon, the plants will be glued onto archive quality paper. Then we will add barcodes and the specimens will be scanned before being incorporated into Kew’s herbarium collection and made available to everyone through the UK Overseas Territories Online Herbarium.

- Sara -


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Added protection for the seas around the Chagos archipelago

By: Colin Clubbe - 04 Nov 2010
Colin Clubbe from Kew's UK Overseas Territories team reports on the latest news about the newly created Chagos Marine Reserve.
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The Chagos Archipelago is one of the UK’s most remote Overseas Territories located in virtually the middle of the Indian Ocean. Kew has been carrying out botanical fieldwork on the Chagos Archipelago (British Indian Ocean Territory), which has recently become the world's largest protected marine reserve. I was fortunate enough to be part of the 2010 scientific expedition there in February. The results from my botanical explorations are being added to the UKOTs on-line herbarium.


Moresby Island in the Chagos Archipelago

Moresby Island has rich bird and native plant diversity (Image: RBG Kew)

The really exciting news is that commercial fishing is no longer permitted around Chagos, making it the largest no-take marine protected area in the world. The remaining tuna fishing licenses expired on 31 October 2010 following the British Government’s decision to create the Chagos Marine Reserve on 1 April 2010. Funding of £3.5 million towards policing the Reserve has been committed by the Bertarelli Foundation and the Blue Marine Foundation. An article about this development (pdf) was published in the Sunday Times on 10 September 2010.

At 544,000 km², the Chagos Marine Reserve represents 16% of the world’s fully protected coral reefs and 40% of the world’s fully protected marine reserves. Kew is a member of the Chagos Environment Network (CEN), a collaboration of nine leading conservation and scientific organisations, established to promote the protection of the rich biodiversity of the Chagos Islands and the surrounding waters. 

Our on-going work in Chagos includes supporting island restoration initiatives and providing general botanical help and advice. This is part of our UK Overseas Territories Programme

- Colin -

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Welcome to Kew's UK Overseas Territories programme blog

By: Pat Griggs - 14 Oct 2010
Find out about the plants of the UK Overseas Territories and how Kew's UKOTs programme is helping to understand and conserve them.
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From the Antarctic to the Mediterranean and from the Indian Ocean to the Caribbean Sea, the islands and peninsulas that make up the UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) hold many more unique plants than the whole of the UK mainland. Botanists and horticultural specialists from Kew Gardens are working with conservation organisations within the Territories to identify, monitor and conserve their botanical riches.

Kew's UKOTs Programme blog will provide updates on conservation projects, interesting plants from the Territories in the Gardens and Herbarium and on other team activities - please check back here regularly to find out about progress.

The UK Overseas Territories

Aerial view of Diego Garcia in the British Indian Ocean Territory

Aerial view of Diego Garcia in the British Indian Ocean Territory (Image: Chagos Conservation Trust)

The 16 UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) are mostly remote groups of  islands.  Some Territories, such as South Georgia and the British Antarctic Territory, experience harsh winds and low temperatures throughout the year, whilst Ascension Island in the Atlantic, the British Indian Ocean Territory and the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean have tropical or sub-tropical climates.  Many emerged from the oceans millions of years ago as a result of volcanic eruptions. With their diverse climates and environmental conditions, the Territories accommodate many different plants and animals, some of them unique to particular islands. St Helena in the South Atlantic has 44 plant species found nowhere else in the world. 

Kew's connections with the UKOTs

Plant collecting in Montserrat

Collecting and identifying plants on Montserrat (Image: RBG Kew)

Kew has long-standing links to many of the UKOTs, dating back to the mid-nineteenth century, when it was involved in botanical exploration around the world, particularly within the British Empire where it contributed to the development of crop resources for local use and as export commodities.  Today, botanists and horticultural specialists from Kew continue to investigate plant diversity in the UKOTs, with a particular emphasis on carrying out thorough botanical surveys.  These surveys help to establish which plants grow where, whether they are under threat from natural events or human activities and how they can be conserved into the future.   

Botanical research and conservation activities

Collecting plant specimens on the Falkland Islands

Collecting plant specimens from the Falkland Islands (Image: RBG Kew)

The UKOTs programme team at Kew contributes to conservation projects in Territories in the South Atlantic (South Georgia, Falkland Islands, St Helena, Ascension, Tristan da Cunha) and the Caribbean (Montserrat, British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, Cayman Islands), as well as in Bermuda and the British Indian Ocean Territory.  Projects involve regular fieldwork alongside local partners to assess different types of vegetation to find out which native and introduced plant species are present and monitor any vegetation changes. 

Providing horticultural support for native plant reintroductions on St Helena
Providing horticultural support for native plant re-introductions on St Helena (Image: RBG Kew)

They also provide support for a range of horticultural activities within the Territories, such as helping local horticulturists to build the nurseries needed for the propagation of threatened plants or to develop cultivation skills.  Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership has organised seed collecting expeditions within several Territories to bring seeds of native and threatened species back to the UK for long-term safe storage.  They are also helping conservation organisations in the UKOTs to acquire the skills and equipment required for their own seed collecting programmes.

Herbarium specimen of Euphorbia origanoides

Herbarium specimen of one of Ascension Island's unique plants, Euphorbia origanoides, collected during the HMS Challenger expedition in 1851

The plant specimens collected during fieldwork are added to the 8 million dried pressed plants already held in Kew's Herbarium.  All of the UKOTs plant specimens, both recent and historic, are being scanned electronically so that digital versions can be made available online through the UKOTs online herbarium.  Each digital image is accompanied by the information available on the specimen label, from collectors' notebooks and research data, to provide a valuable conservation resource for use in the Territories.

Monitoring the growth of Rondeletia buxifolia

Monitoring the growth of Rondeletia buxifolia a unique species from Montserrat (Image: RBG Kew)

As well as displaying UKOTs plants in the glasshouses and Gardens at Kew, Kew's horticultural team are investigating the best conditions to cultivate recently collected plants, many of which have never been grown outside the Territories before.  You can see UKOTs species in the Temperate House and the Rock Garden.  For species that are particularly threatened in the wild, the skilled staff of the Conservation Biotechnology Unit propagate plants from tiny pieces of leaf or from seeds or spores that are difficult to germinate under normal glasshouse conditions. 

- Pat -


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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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