Expert assists Darwin project

The Department of Environment recently hosted a visit from Dr. Colin Clubbe of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, as part of the newly established Darwin Initiative project.

The main aim of the Darwin Initiative is to draw together local and international expertise towards developing a biodiversity action plan for the Cayman Islands to protect its terrestrial and marine species and their precious habitats, said a DoE press release.

Dr. Clubbe is the Head of the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Programme at Kew. His area of specialist interest includes tropical forest ecology, especially Caribbean forests.

‘We are thrilled to enjoy the support and participation of Dr. Clubbe and Kew Gardens,’ said Dr. Mat Cottam, Darwin Research Fellow, DoE.

‘Colin brings with him a wealth of expertise and resources, and this is a great opportunity for local stakeholders to benefit from the involvement of the internationally renowned Kew Gardens.’

The focal point of this first visit was to give local stakeholder groups an opportunity to meet with Dr. Clubbe and discuss their own objectives and concerns for the botanical diversity of Cayman, the release said. Representatives included the Botanic Park, National Trust, Orchid Society, Garden Club, CaymanNature, Department of Environment and Department of Agriculture.

Discussions covered a variety of topics. Several priority issues emerged, including the threatened status of many of Cayman’s slow-growing forest trees, and the threats posed by the introduction and spread of fast-growing alien invasive species, the release said.

‘This is a keen and interested group of plant people, and I’m looking forward to working with them,’ commented Dr. Clubbe.

Seed project

Dr. Clubbe was able to offer practical support from Kew in a variety of areas including taxonomic analysis, advice on seed collection and propagation techniques, dealing with invasive plants and an opportunity for Cayman to contribute to the Millennium Seed Bank project.

The Millennium Seed Bank aims to safeguard many of the world’s plant species from extinction by establishing and maintaining a centralised stock of frozen seeds. In the case of a natural disaster, such as a hurricane, the seed bank can be used to re-establish plants and trees which may otherwise have been completely wiped out. The Seed Bank already contains seeds representing almost all the botanical complement of the UK.

A busy week of site visits enabled Dr. Clubbe to gain a flavour of some of the unique trees and plants that Cayman has to offer. First on his list was a small island of ancient dry forest, located in the middle of George Town. Dr. Clubbe was amazed to see the large variety of trees growing on this small patch of land, which is located adjacent to the Community College. Unlike much of Cayman’s bush, which can be difficult to get to, this small patch of woodland is very accessible: a living representation of many of the trees and plants which have played a significant role in the country’s cultural heritage.

‘This would be the perfect place for the construction of a boardwalk to enable the full potential of this remarkable forest to be realised,’ said Dr. Clubbe.

Dr. Clubbe’s schedule included visits to the Mastic Trail, the National Trust offices, the Salina Reserve, CaymanNature and the Botanic Park.

Dr. Clubbe enjoyed a guided tour of the Park’s facilities, focussing on the Woodland Trail, and the orchid propagation unit. Plans for a native tree nursery were discussed, along with many of the challenges facing Cayman since Hurricane Ivan.

Dr. Clubbe was so impressed by the Park, he managed to squeeze in an extra visit to spend more time in the Heritage Garden, which features an original restored turn-of-the-century Caymanian farm house set in a traditional sand garden.

‘This was a great introduction to Cayman and I look forward to getting back soon and working with this enthusiastic and committed group of people,’ he said.

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