About the territory
Montserrat was claimed first for Spain by Columbus in 1493, but first fell under English control in 1632. The Irish exiles who settled on the island established sugar plantations. Slavery was abolished in 1834. Recent history has been dominated by two natural disasters. In 1989 Hurricane Hugo struck the island and 90% of the island was damaged or destroyed. Subsequently, in 1995, the Soufriere Hills Volcano erupted and entirely destroyed the island’s capital, Plymouth. The southern half of the island was rendered uninhabitable and an exclusion zone has been established for safety reasons.
Montserrat is located in the Caribbean and in the Leeward Islands. It has a latitude of 16° 45’ North and a longitude 60° 15’ West. It is around 480 km east-southeast of Puerto Rico and 48 km southwest of Antigua. The Island measures roughly 16km in length and 11 km in width, covering a total area of around 104km2. This area is slowly increasing due to the buildup of volcanic deposits on the southeast coast line. Average temperatures range from 25°C in winter to 30°C in summer whilst average rainfall is between 125 and 200cm, most of which falls between July and November.
The population of Montserrat was 5,215 in the 2019 census, a substantial reduction from the pre-volcanic eruption level of about 11,800. The economy was mainly based on tourism and agriculture, but this has been severely affected by the recent natural disasters.
The Kew online herbarium database records about 700 plant species native to the island. Of the three species endemic to Montserrat, one (Xylosma serratum) is now regarded as being extinct. Another 70 species are restricted to the Lesser Antilles. The insect fauna has been relatively little studied but research in the Central Hills during 2000-2003 suggested that there were up to a thousand beetle species and that approximately 30% were previously undescribed and 10% are endemic.
There are 15 native and three introduced species of amphibians and reptiles. Two species of lizard, the Montserrat galliwasp (Diploglossus montisserrati) and the Montserrat anole (Anolis lividus) are endemic as is one species of snake, the Montserrat racer (Alsophis manselli). Much of the world population of a large frog, the Mountain chicken (Leptodactylus fallax) is on Montserrat and Dominica although the chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) has now been found in both these populations and has had a severe impact.
There are two bird species of global concern, the Montserrat Oriole (Icterus oberi), endemic to the island, and the Forest Thrush (Cichlherminia lherminieri). The former is subject to an emergency rescue plan after the volcanic eruption reduced the population to 200-400 pairs and Montserrat may now be the global stronghold of the latter after declines on St Lucia and Guadaloupe. Twelve other restricted range species are listed for Montserrat although the Lesser Antillean Flycatcher (Myiarchus oberi) may not now occur on the island (Sanders 2006).
The ten species of bat that have been recorded on Montserrat include four regionally endemic bat species and the subspecies of the tree bat (Ardops nichollsi montserratensisis) considered rare.
L-R: The native Montserrat tarantula; Ash covered Plymouth western Montserrat, in the Exclusion Zone.
Policy and legislation
Montserrat 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 living modified organisms with adverse impacts on other organisms, the environment or human health.
Montserrat has an Environment Charter signed jointly with the UK Government. Guiding Principle 7 is to safeguard and restore native species, habitats and landscape features, and control or eradicate invasive species. Under the associated commitment 2 the government of Montserrat will ensure the protection and restoration of key habitats, species and landscape features through legislation and appropriate management structures and mechanisms, including a protected area policy, and attempt the control and eradication of invasive species. Implementation progress was reviewed in 2007, 2010 and 2016.
Legislation is weak with regards biosecurity provisions, with very limited powers for post-border controls of invasive species. Permits are required for live animal import and animals from some origin countries banned. Powers exist with relation to the prevention of spread of diseases for plants (powers of inspection, entry, search, restriction of movement, seizure and destruction), and diseased imported plants and animals can be destroyed. All imported plants and animals are imported through specified ports or places of entry, and inspected.
In 2019 new regional OECS Bills were being developed in Plant Health, Animal Health and Plant Protection, and Montserrat was looking to revise its biosecurity legislation in-line to provide a regional framework. Biosecurity policy in early stages of drafting, to complement new biosecurity legislation.
Invasive species and biosecurity
A total of 235 non-native species (marine and terrestrial) was recorded for Montserrat by the RSPB Stocktake (Churchyard et al 2014).
Problems with invasive non-native species
The volcanic eruptions of the 1990s have affected the spread of certain non-native species. Extensive pig (Sus scrofa) control work has been undertaken but further efforts are needed to stop the population growing further. The pigs are known to uproot many native plants, including (Heliconia spp.), which are the main nesting plant for the critically endangered Montserrat oriole (Icterus oberi). They also have other impacts such as trampling and predation of turtle nests (Varnham 2006). Rats (Rattus spp.) are widespread on the island and are major predators of local biota and may also affect vegetation dynamics. Feral cats, goats and other livestock also present conservation problems and overgrazing and competition from alien invasive weeds is seen as limiting regeneration.
Cane Toads (Bufo marinus) have been introduced and are widespread and abundant. Although they do not appear to compete directly with Mountain Chickens they do act as a reservoir for the chytrid fungus.
In the northern part of the island in the Silver Hills large areas of scrub are dominated by Purple Allamanda (Cryptostegia madagascarensis), a garden escapee introduced from Madagascar.
Non-native Sus scrofa
Native critically endangered Icterus oberi
Priority invasive non-native species and actions
The Montserrat Department of Environment has instigated a feral mammal programme with technical support from the UK government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency in the form of marksmen and training for local shooters and hunters with dogs to reduce the numbers of free-roaming pigs, cattle, sheep and goats.
Culling programs are run by the Department of Environment each year, especially in water catchment areas. In the “safe zone” a loose livestock team is responsible for catching loose goats, sheep and donkeys, using dogs trained to capture (not kill) the animals.
In 2017 a biosecurity gap analysis (PDF) was completed. Basic pest risk assessment is carried out, with reliance on work done by neighbouring countries. Border operations are handled by customs officers who have received training in phytosanitary issues. Levels of compliance are considered good.
Post-border, there is no surveillance or monitoring but some capacity for rapid response across all taxa as required.
In 2018 a pathway analysis was completed. Montserrat has no direct flights outside the region and is routinely served by flights from Antigua, around 20 minutes flying time away, with occasional direct flights to St Vincent. Occasional private charters connect to Guadeloupe, Anguilla, Nevis and St. Martin (Dutch side). A weekly helicopter service flies from Antigua to Montserrat Volcano Observatory. Medevac flights go to Guadeloupe, Antigua and Barbados.
A Ferry service connects Antigua to Montserrat four times a week, and can be chartered to St. Kitts and Nevis.
Cargo arrives by both plane and sea; weekly from Dominica with vegetables and other goods, once or twice a Month from Florida with General cargo, and once a month from St. Martin (and UK via St Martin) with general cargo.
Horizon scanning was carried out in 2019, identifying a total of 28 new invasive species of concern which have the potential to arrive within the next 5 – 10 years; read a report on the horizon scanning (PDF).
The Mountain Chicken Recovery Programme (external link) is a collaboration between European conservation institutions and the governments of Montserrat and Dominica to save this species from extinction. It is focused on ex-situ captive breeding of the Mountain chicken, and the first population of Mountain chickens arrived back in Montserrat in 2019.
In 2010, for the International Year of Biodiversity, the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), funded a series of invasive species projects across the UK Overseas Territories, coordinated by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. Project activities on Montserrat were aimed at investigating control of Red fire ants (external link):
- A project management strategy
- An assessment of the scale and distribution of infestation
- A long-term management strategy and action plan
- A Communication Strategy to raise public awareness
Areas undergoing vigorous treatment, such as the recreational grounds in Little Bay, showed a reduction in Red Fire Ant colonies. More information: http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=4397
Drawing on commitments made under the Environment Charter, Overseas Territories Environment Programme(OTEP) 11 OTEP funded projects (external link) were delivered in total between 2004 and 2012.
Montserrat has received a number of Darwin Initiative funded projects, mainly associated with the marine environment, listed below. Find details with links to project reports (external link):
- Upgrade and revision of reef survey resource (DPLUS004)
- Seed conservation in the Caribbean UKOTs (DPLUS006)
- Maximising long-term survival prospects of Montserrat’s endemic species and ecosystem-services (DPLUS049)
- Climate change adaptation in the fisheries of Anguilla and Montserrat (DPLUS066)
- The Montserrat Recycling and Waste Reduction Initiative (DPLUS078)
- Improving Sustainability of Marine Management in Montserrat (DPLUS079)
- Regional-scale marine conservation through multi-territory tracking of frigatebirds (DPLUS097)
- Restoring and safeguarding wetlands of the Caribbean UKOTs (DPLUS098)
The project ‘Tackling invasive non-native species in the UK Overseas Territories’ was implemented between 2016 and 2020 to strengthen biosecurity in the OTs, funded by the UK government Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF). Montserrat benefitted from a number of activities to strengthen its biosecurity, including: pathway analysis, horizon scanning, pathway action planning, legislative support for drafting biosecurity legislation, access to online learning, and technical support. Find further details (external link).
Montserrat was involved in the CSSF project ‘Natural Capital in the Caribbean and South Atlantic Overseas Territories’ from 2016 to 2019, and delivered to four OTs in the Caribbean by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). The programme of work involves mapping and valuing the participating OTs natural capital assets through integrating ecological data, satellite data, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and economic assessments. Find project details and reports (external link).
Information for visitors
Before travelling please ensure all items are clean, free from organic materials such as mud, faeces, seeds and invertebrates:
- Check your footwear, outdoor clothing and day packs to make sure they are clean and free from weed seeds, mud, invertebrates and plant material. If possible we recommend that you travel with new outdoor clothing and equipment. Shake out or vacuum all the compartments and pockets before you pack.
- If you have been camping, check that your tent and other equipment is clean, dry and free of dirt and invertebrates such as ants and spiders. Shake it out before you pack it up for travel and ensure no soil remains on tent pegs.
- If you have been hiking, visiting a wilderness area, farm or zoo, make sure your footwear and clothes are clean and free from seeds, mud and faeces. Check boot soles for mud between the treads, Velcro fastenings for seeds and plant material, and shake out or vacuum pockets to remove any dirt and plant material.
- If you are carrying golf, fishing or other sports and outdoor equipment with you, make sure they are clean, dry and free from dirt and any live creatures.
Department of Environment
Tel: +1 664 491 9278.
- Barnsley, S., Cary, E., Pienkowski, M. and Wensink, C.(Eds) (2016). Review of performance by 2016 of UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies in implementing the 2001 Environment Charters or their equivalents and moving towards the Aichi Targets and Sustainable Development Targets. UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum, April 2016.
- Churchyard, T., Eaton, M., Hall, J., Millett, J., Farr, A., Cuthbert, R. and Stringer, C. (2014). The UK’s wildlife overseas: a stocktake of nature in our Overseas Territories. Sandy, UK: RSPB.
- Edgar, P. (2010). The Amphibians and reptiles of the UK Overseas Territories, Crown Dependencies and Sovereign Base Areas: Species Inventory and Overview of Conservation and Research Priorities. Bournemouth, UK: Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.
- Proctor, D. and Fleming, L. V., eds. (1999). Biodiversity: the UK Overseas Territories. Peterborough, UK: JNCC.
- Sanders, S. M., ed. (2006). Important Bird Areas in the United Kingdom Overseas Territories. Sandy, UK: RSPB.
- Varnham, K. (2006). Non-native species in UK Overseas Territories: a review. Peterborough, UK: JNCC Report No. 372.
- JNCC – Invasive species in the UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies
- Kew RBG – UKOTS Online Herbarium
- Montserrat government Department of Environment (external link)
RSPB – UKOTs Wildlife Stocktake 2014 (external link)
- Virtual tours of the UKOTs, by the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum