British Virgin Islands

About the territory

Originally occupied by Amerindians, Columbus sailed past the British Virgin Islands (BVI) in 1493 but it was another 150 years before Dutch Buccaneers settled on Tortola, only to be ousted by an English group in 1666. They introduced the plantation system which continued for nearly 200 years. Following the abolition of slavery, droughts and economic decline, the plantations were sold off and the islands gradually converted to smallholdings, supplemented by fisheries and mining. During the latter half of the twentieth century significant changes accompanied the islands emergence as a tourist centre. The current economy is now almost entirely services and tourism based. The population was estimated to be 30,231 in 2020 (

The British Virgin Islands (BVI) form part of the Puerto Rican Bank in the eastern Caribbean Sea. There are approximately forty islands in the group. The combined land area of the islands is 153 km2. The largest islands are Tortola (54 km2), Virgin Gorda (21 km2), Anegada (38 km2) and Jost van Dyke (9 km2). The average temperature is 28°C with rainfall averaging 102 cm per annum.


Kew’s online Herbarium database states that about 940 plant species occur on the four main islands. Three species are regarded as endemic to the BVI with a further 22 endemic to either BVI and the US Virgin Islands (2) or the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Of the 332 species recorded on Anegada 44 (13%) are regarded as non-native.

There is one species of endemic butterfly and amongst the 24 species of reptiles and amphibians seven are regarded as endemic. There are 210 bird species recorded on the islands with a small number of core breeding species supplemented by pelagic seabirds during the summer and numerous North American migrants during the winter months; there are no endemic bird species (Sanders 2006).

Policy/Strategy background

The BVI Environment Charter sets out ten guiding principles one of which (number 7) is to “safeguard and restore native species, habitats and landscape features, and control or eradicate invasive species”.

The BVI Government is a signatory to the St George’s Declaration (SGD) of principles for Environmental Sustainability in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), 2001. Under Principle 13 (Protect and Conserve Biological Diversity) Strategy 40 covers activities aimed at avoiding or minimising introductions and escapes of alien or modified organisms with adverse impacts on other organisms, the environment or human health.

A Government Green paper on Climate Change was issued in July 2010. It includes references to invasive species and proposes the development of an invasive species reporting and early warning system and standard response protocol. It also mentions reduction of introduced bird egg predators such as cats, rodents and mongoose.

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