First, we were delighted to hear news yesterday that Natural England has decided to protect a national important population of nightingales by enlarging the SSSI boundary of Chattenden Woods to include at Lodge Hill. Following its decision to confirm the notification of Benty Grange SSSI last week, it is another timely example of Natural England doing its job in the face of stiff opposition and a reminder of why we need an independent body that acts as a champion for nature. However, the designation doesn't guarantee that the site will be saved, and it will ultimately be up to the Secretary of State to do the right thing and determine that this housing development should not go ahead. But it will not come to that if Medway Council and Land Securities do the right thing and go back to the drawing board and rethink where they should build their houses.
Second, without wishing to rush on from good news, I am keen to continue our series on the UK Overseas Territories. Here, my colleague James Millett offers this postcard from paradise...
The Caribbean is known as a honeymoon destination and a tax haven for investors. The region is also a biodiversity hotspot: the islands support numerous endemic species, rare habitats and are vital migration stopovers for millions of birds each spring and autumn. Within the Caribbean are five UK Overseas Territories, each one with distinct character and culture, and all with special places for nature. The elfin forest on the mountains of Montserrat, the salt ponds of Anguilla, the dry forests of the Caymans, the vast mangroves of the Turks and Caicos and the unique wetlands of Anegada in the British Virgin Islands.
In recent decades the pressure on key sites has been intense, with two main drivers of biodiversity loss. The first being Invasive Alien Species such as rats and mongooses that have devastated ecosystems, the second, has been rapid and often weakly regulated development, driven, until 2008 by booming tourism and financial sectors. The down turn in the global economy impacted the region greatly, has done little to alleviate pressure on the environment and has resulted in substantial hardship for island populations. The Caribbean Territories need development, but it needs to be stewarded properly and should not destroy the special places that draw visitors to the islands.
Against this backdrop real conservation wins are being made. Small Departments of Environment and National Trusts are making progress with very few resources. The National Trust of the Cayman Islands has raised funds to buy over 1000ha of threatened forest and wetland, the Centre Hills of Montserrat have been declared a protected area (but still not legislated as a National Park) and Dog Island in Anguilla cleared of introduced rats. Environmental Mainstreaming Exercises in the BVI and Anguilla supported by the FCO and Defra are also to be commended. Taking a novel approach we are working with Coral Cay Conservation to launch a citizen science project in Montserrat which will bring paying volunteers to support marine and terrestrial conservation initiatives, and boost tourism and the profile of Montserrat as a great place to experience nature.
Despite this the environment is not yet central to political agendas. The values of these internationally important sites goes beyond biodiversity, the islands need healthy coral reefs, mangroves and forests for fresh water, ecotourism, fisheries, flood defence and climate change resilience. Risks to these sites are risks to future development.
Environmental legislation in the Caribbean OTs is by and large incomplete, with a number of draft bills delayed or stalled due to either limited capacity in legal departments or to a lack of political will. Measures to provide more technical support to get legislation completed should be an easy win. Each Territory has an elected Government and UK intervention is generally restricted to matters of national security.
One could argue that if the UK and Territorial Governments can agree Frameworks for Fiscal Responsibility to assist sustainable development however, why not for Environmental Responsibility as well?
Well done Natural England. Quad Erat Demonstrandum (QED), meaning "Which was to be Demonstrated", that Natural England must remain an independent organisation with its own statutory powers.
Very interesting "Post Card" from the Carribbean. perhaps they would like to also send us some of their warm weather, we could do with it right now!!). Seriously though, tourism is a major income earner for the area, but without a pristine environment and wildlife to go with it, in the end people will not want to visit the area if constant environmental degradation persists. When will these politicians ever learn that protecting the environment and nature is more important than anything .
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