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, small islands, and experience a wide range of climates, from polar to tropical. Together they have a total land area (not including the British Antarctic Territory) similar in size to Wales, though have a native flora somewhat larger than the UK's, with approximately 1600 species (compared to about 1400 in the UK); about 180 of which are endemic to the UKOTs.
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's Herbarium, undertaking local capacity building, botanical inventories, conservation assessments, and horticultural protocols, as well as seed banking.
To date, the MSBP has banked over 1000 seed collections of almost 600 taxa from the UKOTs, including 79 of the endemic species. While a small number of collections from St Helena pre-date the 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 (see below). 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.
Global Tree Seed Bank Project
Funder: Garfield Weston Foundation
Currently, three UKOTs (British Virgin Islands, Montserrat and Turks and Caicos Islands) are participating in the Caribbean regional package of this project, 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 continues under the Global Tree Seed Bank project, with 100 tree and shrub species targeted for banking locally, and duplication at the MSB.
The seed conservation partners in this project are:
Bahamas Forestry Unit
British Virgin Islands
National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands
Montserrat Department of Environment
Puerto Rico Department of Environmental and Natural Resources
University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus
Turks and Caicos Islands
Turks and Caicos Department of Environment and Coastal Resources
Conserving the genetic diversity of St Helena's threatened endemic flora
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 is seeking 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 in this project is:
Environmental Management Division of the St Helena Government