Identifying and Conserving Resilient Habitats in the British Virgin Islands





The National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands (NPTVI) and the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew have been collaborating for more than 20 years to document and understand the status of the unique plants here in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). Our joint survey work across more than 10 islands has led to a good understanding of where the most important sites are for wild plant diversity and the threats they face. This most recently resulted in the identification of a network of 18 Tropical Important Plant Areas (TIPAS) and the publication of a guidebook to these sites and plants.


The latest project, funded by the United Kingdom’s Government’s Darwin Initiative, has brought the Kew Team back to the BVI to work with the Trust to try and better understand what makes a resilient habitat. How have these forests responded to Hurricanes Irma and Maria? What qualities might enable them to survive in our changing climate? Are the BVI's unique plants at the heart of this resilience?


The Team have been collecting data from forests across Anegada, Virgin Gorda, Fallen Jerusalem, and Tortola to answer these questions. There are still exciting discoveries to be made, such as revealing the extent of a newly discovered population of the tree Eugenia earhartii, a critically endangered plant previously thought to only occur on St John in the neighbouring United States Virgin Islands. The Team was delighted to see how well several key threatened species are reproducing naturally from seeds in the forests, such as Zanthoxylum thomasianum and Myrcia neothomasiana, both endangered species.



The current study extends into studying the genetics and reproduction of some key plant species, as well as continuing work on the critically endangered Anegada rock iguana (Cyclura pinguis) in collaboration with Fort Worth Zoo. This research will inform the Trust on how best to protect these plants and animals, and the habitats that sustain them.


Tom Heller, the Kew project lead, said “After such an enforced gap it’s great to be back in the BVI collecting valuable data with the Trust staff. This joint research will also deliver tools and skills to help the team continue to monitor and safeguard these uniquely important plants and habitats for future generations”.


The Director of the Trust, Dr Cassander Titley-O’Neal, commented that “It was great to have the Kew Team back in the Territory after such an extended period due to Covid-19. The field surveys in early February 2022 completed by Kew and NPT staff, will garner the necessary scientific data needed to update the Trust’s System Plan and ensure capacity building of our staff over the long-term”.

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