It’s a big week this week for the environmental treasures of the 14 UK Overseas Territories (OTs). Tomorrow, the RSPB will launch the first-ever assessment of their environmental protection laws. This coincides with the arrival of representatives from the environment departments from 10 Territories. They are in London to review the OTs Biodiversity Strategy and work out how to implement it.
In honour of this, I shall post a series of blogs about the wildlife of the OTs and the challenges these fabulous places face. These might be sprinkled with news closer to home so hopefully this week there will something for everyone!
In my first blog, I preview the report we will launch tomorrow.
For too long, the remarkable wildlife of the UK Overseas Territories has been out of sight and out of mind. Did you know for instance that the UK is responsible for the world’s largest coral atoll (British Indian Ocean Territory), over a third of the world’s breeding albatrosses, or the remarkable Mountain Chicken (a giant frog from the forests of Montserrat)? The RSPB has been working in the Overseas Territories for twenty years and has always championed the need for more support for conservation of their remarkable biodiversity from the UK Government.
We were therefore delighted when the Prime Minister announced in last year’s Overseas Territories White Paper that he saw “...an important opportunity to set world standards in our stewardship of the extraordinary natural environments we have inherited’. The White Paper also says that the Territories should ‘abide by the same basic standards of good government as in the UK’.
To support this ambition, the RSPB and the Foundation for International Environmental Law & Development (FIELD) have just completed the first ever analysis of biodiversity and development planning legislation and policy across all 14 Overseas Territories. We have identifyied good practice and outlinied areas for improvement and plan a follow-up assessment of progress in 2015.
We assessed Territory policies and legislation against what we accept in the UK to be the fundamental elements of good environmental governance. The results present a fascinating mixed picture.
Gibraltar was best in show. It is the Territory with the best across-the-board good practice, demonstrating the strength of EU environmental legislation, which Gibraltar mirrors.
Other notable good practice was found in the site protection mechanisms of the British Virgin Islands, and development planning in St Helena.
There are however significant gaps which urgently need to be filled: 9 Territories lack strong networks of terrestrial protected areas, 4 lack any marine protected areas, and in 5 Territories, there is no legal requirement to undertake Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) before permitting major developments on rare habitats.
In many of the more populous Territories, the report found that environmental legislation which would fill gaps has stalled in the political process (some Bills have been stuck in limbo for over ten years!), whilst many of the smaller Territories do not have the technical or legal drafting capacity to address the gaps. Increased input, advocacy and focussed technical support from the UK Government is therefore essential if the White Paper’s aims are to be met.
Major improvements are within reach, and much can be achieved within existing budgetary constraints. We therefore hope to work with the Foreign Office, Defra and the Department for International Development to implement the White Paper and achieve both stronger scores in 2015 and protection for some of our most unusual wildlife.
Well done to the RSPB for taking the lead on these absolutely vitally important 14 overseas areas of the UK for wildlife. I understand they incorporate about, 78 Important Bird Areas (IBAs), 80 critically endangered species, and are home to about 500 species found nowhere else in the world. What higher priority is there for giving these areas much greater widlife protection? While it is probably no very realistic, just now, to expect big inputs of money and grants from the Westminster Government to the Territories (although these are long over due), a lot of other things can be done, as you describe Martin, such as a major strenghtening of wildlife legislation. Good luck in all your efforts, they are so very important.
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