This project will demonstrate how colonialism has shaped and continues to shape the ecology of the UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs).

Scientific challenge

British colonialist policies have had, and continue to have, hugely significant social and environmental impacts throughout the UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) and former colonies. Impacts from forced migrations and removed cultural and natural heritage are still felt today in legacies including racial inequality.

British colonialism has also had environmental impacts such as deforestation, land clearance for agriculture, and the mass movement and establishment of non-native species both deliberate and accidental, leading to significant impacts on ecosystems.

The establishment of invasive non-native species (INNS) has negatively impacted global biodiversity, human health and economies. INNS interact with climate change, being described as a "deadly duo" by the IUCN, increasing the likelihood of extinction events occurring. The mass importation and establishment of non-native species has included species that have been important in the lives of people. Medicinal plant use can either involve species brought from their original homelands, or the use of species in the new environment similar to known species from the homeland.

 

Project summary

It is evident that human movement, whether free or forced, has had, and continues to have, a significant impact on the unique biodiversity and habitats of the UKOTs, and the ability of the local communities living there today to conserve them.

With case studies from Montserrat and the Cayman Islands, two of the UKOTs, we will explore ways in which the movement of species has shaped the ecology and culture on the islands.

We will also:

  • uncover and share hidden records from the UKOTs held in the UK
  • develop best practices for knowledge sharing to ensure that data and materials from UKOTs are shared equitably.

We seek to address three questions relating to re-discovering hidden knowledge on people, plants and animal species to empowering data sharing between the UKOTs and UK:

  1. What is the role of colonialism in shaping the current perceptions of children and young people in Montserrat of "weeds and bush" such as blue vervain known culturally as medicinal plants?
  2. What is the role of colonialism in shaping conservation needs and local views on the endemic blue iguana on the Cayman Islands?
  3. How are data and materials from the 14 UKOTs represented in overseas museum and herbarium collections, displays and educational materials? How best can they be shared between the UKOTs and UK to ensure equity in data use in informing education, research and nature conservation?

The project runs until April 2023.

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Flowers of blue vervain plant

Blue vervain was used as a medicinal plant by enslaved people who were forcibly taken to Montserrat. Such plant use forms one of the case studies in the project. Photo: Montserrat National Trust.

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Blue iguna

Another case study investigates the impact of invasive non-native species on the Cayman Islands on native and endemic species such as the Blue iguana.

Project team

  • UKCEH (lead organisation)
  • Montserrat National Trust
  • National Trust for the Cayman Islands
  • Meise Botanic Garden
  • Leeds Museums and Galleries
  • UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum

UKCEH people

Lead investigator
Plant ecologist

Funding

'From blue iguanas to blue vervain' is one of 10 interdisciplinary research projects awarded funding to understand how the future of modern environmental science can be informed by the past. ‘Hidden histories of environmental science’ is a cross-council collaboration between the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Natural Environment Research Council.