Despite two-thirds of Montserrat being zones of restriction due to volcanic activity, Montserrat remains hugely important for endemic species. Earlier part-Darwin-funded work by others centred on the Centre Hills. This project takes a strategic view of the whole island – needed to identify and minimise pressures. This is to ensure that the natural resources are safeguarded, thereby also underpinning economic recovery – despite the need to replace the capital and only town, destroyed by the volcano.

In 2016, we received a Darwin Plus grant (DPLUS49) for a project in partnership with the Montserrat National Trust (MNT), Montserrat Government Department of Environment, Montana State University (MSU) and Treweek Environmental Consultants. The grant to set this successful initiative has now ended, but you can contribute to keeping this vital work here.

The linking rationale of the project is both to help increase this local capacity and to give the best chances possible for Montserrat’s unique and rare species of wildlife to survive in the long term. The latter is done most effectively by allowing the species ranges to be as extensive as possible – something of a challenge in a small island, especially one which has lost a great deal of its vegetated area to the volcano in the short term. The wildlife is important, not only in its own right and for the quality of life of Montserratians, but also as a major draw for tourists, increasing in the future to the benefit of Montserrat, this being a major element of the economy.

Under this rationale, the project aims at filling four key gaps.

First, over the 2 years of the project, a series of stakeholder meetings are taking place to develop, by consultation, a widely shared vision and initial plan for the future use of the southern two-thirds (where permanent human occupation is no longer possible due to volcanic risk), an area thought to be ecologically rich in endemic species; the approach emphasises (but not limited to) potential restoration of natural ecosystems, endangered by the actions of feral farm animals which had to be abandoned due to volcanic explosions. The stakeholder meetings have identified how the south could provide opportunities, which contribute towards the island’s economy, e.g. ecotourism, scientific research.

Areas in the south of Montserrat, particularly those close to the coast, are showing signs of erosion caused by the presence of feral livestock, mostly goats; Copyright: UKOTCF

Second, to develop a system to ensure that developments in the occupied zone take full account of maintaining the natural environment- this involved the visit of two world experts in environmental impact assessments

Third, our “Adopt a Home for Wildlife” initiative allows individuals, organisations, community groups and businesses to maintain and protect a public or private space, in partnership with the MNT. It is one realistic opportunity of safeguarding and restoring pockets of habitats, e.g. tropical dry forest, across the island and will continue beyond the project end.

Project team takes part in ZJB radio show with Rose Willock. Nicolas outlines the 'Adopt a Home for Wildlife' initiative, which generated further interest from the community to get involved; Copyright: UKOTCF

Nicolas Tirard, Project Officer at MNT, has been working with several land-owners, producing some immediate and positive outcomes. For example, the large stand of Casuarina (a highly invasive Australian species found in the Caribbean) was removed from much of the Belham Valley area, but carefully keeping those native species, which provide important coastal defence and natural shade for a recreation area. See a video about this example, at Old Road Bay, here:



and another on the work of the Cork Hill Reunion Committee, removing invasives and restoring native plants in and around their former gardens here:



This third video features Montserrat National Trust's native plant nursery, which is vital in supplying the young plants for Adopt a Home for Wildlife and other sites:




Fourth, for over 20 years, MSU has been involved in collecting information on invertebrate species found on Montserrat. They have found over 700 species of beetles there, including 80 endemics. In 2017, a team from MSU visited the island to demonstrate the newly developed Montserrat-centred access to database systems and the previous insect survey records that they have captured for the database. Their visit both tested its match to Montserrat’s needs by consultations on the final formatting aspects, and provided training to people in Montserrat in the use of the online database. The team also continued the insect fieldwork in areas under-studied (e.g. coastal and agricultural areas). Local people participated for training, and the team provided public lectures attended by 1% of the island’s population.

MSU Associate researcher, Dr Justin Runyon's collection of invertebrates; Copyright: UKOTCF

As part of the project communication activities six project newsletters have been produced which outline project activities in great detail:

  1. Newsletter 1 July 2016
  2. Newsletter 2 October 2016
  3. Newsletter 3 March 2017
  4. Newsletter 4 July 2017
  5. Newsletter 5 December 2017
  6. Newsletter 6 April 2018

We have published also several articles on this project online: Seedball blog on the Bottle bee of Montserrat and the Darwin Initiative newsletter.

Acknowledgments

We thank the people of Montserrat who have shown us their evergreen welcome and tremendous hospitality during our visits. They have enthusiastically participated in all activities and it is clear that they are deeply committed to preserving and protecting their special island.

We must also thank Duncan Hutt, Katie Metcalf, Dulcie, Janice and everyone else involved in the project.

Links to project partners and sponsors

Montserrat National Trust

Montana State University

Treweek Environmental Consultants

Government of Montserrat

Digital Globe Foundation

Darwin Plus