The UK Overseas Territories are a funny collection of places, mostly islands, which speak volumes about the UK's colonial past.
We will go to war to protect their sovereignty but will we protect their wildlife?
The UKOTs are populated by 240,000 British nationals and are visited by over 1.6 million UK citizens every year and yet are mostly overlooked in Whitehall. Defra is the department responsible for the biodiversity of the UKOTs, yet does not have a single full-time member of staff member working on this complex area of British biodiversity.
The UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) are of outstanding importance for global biodiversity, home to iconic habitats and species, including over a third of the world’s breeding albatross population and arguably the most important seabird island in the world (Gough island). This biodiversity is highly threatened: there are now 74 critically endangered species in the UKOTs. Over 75% of the globally threatened species for which the UK is responsible are found on these small islands, including over 90% of the UK’s globally threatened bird species. With 33 bird species under threat of extinction, the UKOTs have more bird species of global conservation concern than the entire European continent.
Extinctions are an ongoing threat. The last global extinction in the UKOTs occurred as recently as 2004 (the St. Helena Olive), a fate which would have been unthinkable had the last specimens of the species occurred on an offshore Scottish island. The Gough bunting is predicted to go extinct within 40 years without conservation intervention. If the UK is to have a hope of meeting its 2020 biodiversity commitments, it will have to step up its responsibility towards the UKOTs and treat them as a true priority. Only 6 of the 33 globally threatened bird species in the UKOTs currently have action plans in place.
The tiny human populations of many of the UKOTs are unable to respond to the scale of action required. Support and assistance is required, but the UKOTs fall between the gaps: due to their status as UK Territory, they are ineligible for support from most international funding sources (e.g. Global Environment Facility), but they are also unable to access much UK funding (e.g. Heritage Lottery Fund) due to their location.
Our two advocacy asks of Defra are to: • conduct a UKOTs Disappearing Species Assessment of the state of the c.140 critically endangered and endangered UKOT species. (At present, no priorities for action have been identified and the status of many of the UKOTs’ globally threatened species is unknown).• establish a UK Overseas Territories Biodiversity Unit within Defra to coordinate HMG work on the issue- can’t be done ‘off the side of the desk’.
Come on DEFRA, step up for the UK Overseas Territories. The recent shipwreck at Tristan da Cunha really brought them into focus. Let's not have any more extinctions this century!!
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