UK Overseas Territories Programme

Vegetation on Anegada

British Virgin Islands: The Territory

The 40 islands that make up the British Virgin Islands are situated in the eastern Caribbean, some 96 km to the east of Puerto Rico.

Like most of the BVI, Tortola and Virgin Gorda, which are the two largest islands, are volcanic in origin, comprising steep-sided hills arising from the sea. Anegada, in contrast, is a flat coral limestone island, no higher than 8 m above sea level.

The islands have a sub-tropical climate and are prone to hurricanes.

Biodiversity – plants and animals

Dry evergreen forest, which was once the predominant vegetation on islands of the Puerto Rican bank (BVI, together with Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands), still occurs in patches on most of the islands

Rainforest species grow at higher altitudes on Tortola, where there is enough rainfall.

Some stretches of coast are still protected with mangrove swamp.

Anegada is covered with scrub and Caribbean dry forest that is dominated with pockets of woodland on the limestone. Its sand-dunes have a distinctive shrubby vegetation.

Important populations of reptiles, amphibians and marine turtles live on the islands.

Anegada’s saltwater lakes provide a refuge for migratory birds as well as endemic species.

Around the islands are the largest and most diverse reef complexes in the Lesser Antilles.

Flowers of Anegada native Malpighia woodburyana

Caribbean dry forest on Anegada

Threats to biodiversity

In the past much of the islands’ vegetation was cleared to make way for sugar cane farming.

As more and more hotels and resorts are built, the natural habitats of BVI’s plants and animals are disappearing.

Invasive plant species have appeared in many habitats and are causing problems for native species as they become established.

Unique species: Metastelma anegadense

This plant is unique to the sand dunes of Anegada. It twines itself tightly around the shrubs that cover the area. One of Anegada’s school children rediscovered a long-lost local name for Metastelma; it was once called wire wist because people used its strong flexible stems as string. The photogram of Metastelma twined round the orchid Psychilis macconnelliae was created by Angela Easterling to highlight Anegada’s fascinating plants.

Flowers of Metastelma anegadense Feathery seeds of Metastelma anegadense Photogram of wirewist

Find out more about:

Kew's activities in BVI, past and present:
BVI: Kew connections
Caught in Time

BVI's biodiversity:
BVI in Biodiversity: the UK Overseas Territories (pp45-54), published by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (1999)
British Virgin Islands National Parks Trust
UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum - BVI