The sixteen UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) are former colonies that have retained their direct British links and are home to around 200,000 people. They are all, with the exception of Gibraltar and the British Antarctic Territory, islands, and experience a wide range of climates, from polar to tropical. Together they have a surface area approximately seven times that of mainland UK and are home to over four thousand plant taxa (native and introduced). 191 are endemic to the UKOTs, 17 of these considered extinct.
In the South Atlantic are St Helena, Ascension, Tristan da Cunha, Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, and the British Antarctic Territory. Five UKOTs are situated in the Caribbean region: Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, and the Turks and Caicos Islands. On the European continent are Gibraltar and the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia. Finally, sitting rather distantly from the other UKOTs are Bermuda (western North Atlantic), British Indian Ocean Territory, and Pitcairn (southern Pacific Ocean).
Kew has a long history of botanical study in the UKOTs, with Joseph Dalton Hooker visiting several of the South Atlantic UKOTs on the Ross expedition to the Antarctic in 1839-1843, during which he made many plant specimens now housed in Kew's Herbarium. Hooker later became Director of Kew, holding that post for 20 years. Today, seed conservation forms part of a wider programme of plant conservation in the UKOTs, with a dedicated team based at Kew and Wakehurst, undertaking local capacity building, botanical inventories, conservation assessments, conservation genetics, and horticultural protocols, as well as seed conservation and research, in collaboration with conservationists in the UKOTs.
To date, the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP) has banked 1157 seed collections of 617 native taxa from the UKOTs, including 103 endemics. While a small number of collections from St Helena pre-date the Millennium Seed Bank (MSB), most collections banked have been made during the first International Programme of the MSBP (2000-2009), and during subsequent projects, such as the Darwin Initiative-funded projects in the Caribbean UKOTs and St Helena, and the Global Tree Seed Bank Programme. Use of banked seed is increasing, with seeds of native species being used in plant propagation and habitat restoration work in the Falkland Islands, St Helena, British Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Current projects (click project titles for details)
The British Virgin Islands (BVI's) forests provide vital ecosystem services and support globally threatened biodiversity including 27 plants and 14 animals. As observed following the devastation of Hurricane Irma, forests play a key role in the resilience of the landscape and its natural resources to destructive events.
Through field survey and mapping in collaboration with our partners the National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands and Fort Worth Zoo, the project is improving our understanding of the status of the BVI's forests and the globally threatened plant and animal species and ecosystem services they support. As well as delivering up-to-date biodiversity and information resources, the project is strengthening ex situ collections of globally threatened plant species, including seeds for banking at the J.R. O'Neal Botanic Garden and the MSB.
The early inhabitants of South Georgia brought with them many non-native species, the most impactful being reindeer (intentionally introduced for their meat) and rats (unintentionally introduced by the ships that stopped there).
As invasive non-native species are one of the most important drivers of biodiversity loss, reindeer were removed from the island by 2016 and, after a huge eradication project, the island was declared rodent-free in 2018.
With no grazing animals, native and non-native plant species recovered and were able to flourish, so a five-year Non-Native Plant Management Strategy commenced in 2016 to eliminate 33 of the 41 non-native plant species and limit the spread of the most invasive.
Working with our partners at Durham University and Indigena Biosecurity International, this project is working to safeguard South Georgia’s native habitats by monitoring and assessing vegetation changes following invasive non-native species control; estimating from soil seed bank and seed viability studies the risk of non-native plant species persisting past 2020 to inform future management strategy; quantifying the potential for non-native plant species to disperse into new areas following glacial retreat due to climate change; and, securing seed and fern spore collections of native plant species for conservation at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank.
Past projects (click project titles for details)
Funder: Garfield Weston Foundation
Three UKOTs (British Virgin Islands, Montserrat and Turks and Caicos Islands) participated in the Caribbean regional package of this programme, along with Puerto Rico and the Bahamas.
During 2013-2015, the Darwin Initiative-funded Seed conservation in the Caribbean UK Overseas Territories project enabled small-scale seed banks to be established in the five Caribbean UKOTs, along with a training and collecting programme. This work continued under the Global Tree Seed Bank Programme, with 120 tree and shrub species collected for banking locally, and duplication at the MSB.
The seed conservation partners in this project were:
Bahamas: Bahamas Forestry Unit
British Virgin Islands: National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands
Montserrat: Montserrat Department of Environment
Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico Department of Environmental and Natural Resources
Puerto Rico: University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus
Turks and Caicos Islands: Turks and Caicos Department of Environment and Coastal Resources
Funder: Darwin Initiative
St Helena is home to 45 endemic higher plant species, many under severe threat of extinction, and at least ten with fewer than 100 plants remaining in the wild, and several more with fragmented, small or declining ranges. This project seeked to improve the representation of the threatened endemics in ex situ collections through a gap analysis of existing ex situ collections, capacity building in seed conservation and horticulture (training and equipment), and collecting and banking seeds and spores of endemic plants.
The seed conservation partner for this project was:
Environmental Management Division of the St Helena Government
Partners we work with in seed conservation in the UK Overseas territories include: