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UK Overseas Territories

Working with partners in the UK Overseas Territories to enable them to better document, conserve and sustainably manage their rich plant diversity

Introduction

The UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) comprise 16 former colonies that have elected to retain their direct British links and as such form part of the nation state of the UK. Mostly islands, UKOTs support critically important UK biodiversity in terms of both species and habitats. This biodiversity is under threat from habitat loss and fragmentation, invasive species, development and increasingly from the impacts of global climate change. Whilst rich in biodiversity, many UKOTs lack key resources needed to document their biodiversity and manage it sustainably.

The UK Overseas Territories Science Team was formed as a result of Kew's 2001 Science Strategy Review which recognised the importance of UKOTs, their unique UK biodiversity and the need to provide support to implement the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC). The UKOTs Science Team is a small multidisciplinary team based in the Conservation, Living Collections and Estates Directorate with strong links to the Jodrell Laboratory and Herbarium, enabling it to draw upon wide ranging expertise to undertake scientific research, support conservation, and help build capacity in the Territories. In each Territory we work in partnership with Government Departments, NGOs and Civil Society with the overall aim of enabling each UKOT to implement the GSPC.

UKOTs biodiversity

The UK Overseas Territories include some of the most remote and biologically interesting places on Earth. They support an extremely diverse variety of habitats ranging from ice fields and windswept rocky islands of the Antarctic and South Atlantic, to pristine tropical atolls, and a wide diversity of tropical forests. UKOTs have a high rate of endemism across many taxa. At least 180 endemic species of plants, including many endemic genera, 22 endemic birds, 34 endemic reptiles and amphibians, and 685 endemic terrestrial invertebrates have already been described, but there are many gaps in our knowledge of the biodiversity of these Territories.

Many UKOTs are archipelagos that include numerous uninhabited islands of great significance for biodiversity. The flora and fauna of these tiny remnants of the British Empire are a conservation priority on the global stage. Eight UKOTs are located within ‘biodiversity hotspots’ sensu Myers et al. 2000 (Caribbean, Mediterranean Basin and Polynesia/Micronesia). Two are World Heritage sites – Henderson Island (part of the Pitcairn group) and Gough and Inaccessible Islands (part of the Tristan da Cunha group). The British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) became the World's largest Marine Protected Area when the Chagos Marine Reserve was declared in 2010 (55 islands of the Chagos Archipelago within 454,000 km2 of pristine ocean).

Supporting UKOTs in implementing the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation

Kew's historic links with several of the islands that were to become UK Overseas Territories date back to the 18th century, when these islands were strategically important for world trade. Today, Kew's activities focus on providing botanical support and advice to catalogue and conserve their rich biodiversity.

Members of the UKOTs team play an active role in advising various UK Government Departments (Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Department for International Development) on UKOT's plant diversity conservation and sustainable use of plant resources in the Territories, especially in respect of international legislation.

Under the framework of the GSPC Targets, Kew's UKOTs' activities draw on the varied specialisms of team members and include:

GSPC Targets 1 and 2 - online flora and conservation assessments

  • Developing a UKOTs Online Herbarium by digitising and geo-referencing Kew's herbarium collections of UKOTs' plants
  • Undertaking conservation assessments in order to complete a Red List for each UKOT

GSPC Target 3 - developing and sharing methods to conserve plants

  • Developing protocols for propagating and cultivating UKOTs' native plants, both conventionally and under micropropagation
  • Assessing genetic diversity of UKOTs' plants to inform conservation management

GSPC Target 5 - protecting important areas of plant diversity

  • Botanical surveys and monitoring to support identification of Important Plant Areas within the Territories

GSPC Target 7 - in situ conservation

  • Providing data to support conservation legislation
  • Developing native species nurseries in Territories to produce plants for re-introduction and restoration

GSPC Target 8 - ex situ conservation

  • Collecting seeds for safe storage in the Millennium Seed Bank and available for re-introduction
  • Collecting UKOTs plant material (seeds and cuttings) for incorporation into Kew's living collections

GSPC Target 10 - controlling invasive species

  • Identifying and monitoring introduced plants and pests within the Territories

GSPC Target 11 - plants in international trade

  • Designated Scientific Authority for CITES (plants) for the British Indian Ocean Territory and the Falkland Islands
  • Providing advice and training on CITES issues

GSPC Target 14 - education and awareness of plant diversity

  • Displaying UKOTs' plants at Kew and highlighting plants from the Territories on Kew's website
  • Public engagement within Territories about plant diversity 

GSPC Target 15 - capacity building

  • Sharing skills and experience with conservation organisations in the UKOTs
  • Providing specific training activities
  • Supporting the development of botanical infrastructure including Botanic Gardens and Herbaria

GSPC Target 16 - networks for plant conservation

  • Playing an active role as a member of networks of national and international conservation organisations